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State House

South Carolina ‘Republican’ Pork-fest

Is this what “limited government” looks like?

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So-called “conservative” members of South Carolina’s “GOP-controlled” General Assembly have loaded up an already bloated $40 billion budget with hundreds of pork barrel spending items totaling hundreds of millions of dollars. This annual orgy of government excess comes at a time when state taxpayers continue getting the shaft and the state’s economy continues languishing.

Want to know why the Palmetto State’s economy never reaches its full potential? Or why South Carolinians struggle harder than citizens of other states to make ends meet? Because in addition to perpetually expanding a broken bureaucratic state – and investing in all manner of failed crony capitalist schemes – so-called “limited government” leaders keep subsidizing pet projects rather than giving people their money back.

Members of both the “Republican-controlled” House and “GOP-controlled” Senate have laden the 2024-2025 budget with an expansive list of non-essential spending requests – including appropriations for local churches, parks, playgrounds, trails, athletic facilities, museums, zoos and all manner of programs that do not address core functions of government.

The list (.pdf) of 521 spending items totaled a whopping $435.2 million. Also, as of this writing, only the House list has been posted online – and even that didn’t happen until our media outlet started asking questions.

As usual, transparency when it comes to government spending in South Carolina is … hit or miss. Mostly miss.

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Why do lawmakers want to keep these expenditures under wraps? Easy: Because many – if not most – of these appropriations are impossible to defend as statewide expenditures.

While some of the appropriations appear to address legitimate local needs, the lack of detail regarding how the money will be spent – and the ongoing failure of lawmakers to debate each spending item on its merits – is an open invitation for corruption. To wit: Earmarks have previously served as vehicles for lawmakers to enrich friends, family members or business associates.

Just last week, state representative Chris Murphy – who has requested nearly $6 million in earmarks in the upcoming budget – was dinged by conservative reporter Lee Granade for allegedly appropriating $250,000 in the current (2023-2024) budget to a former client/ fitness instructor who, according to Granade, “potentially” used some of the money for a bikini photoshoot.

While nothing nearly as racy is overtly subsidized in this year’s list of earmarks (not on the surface, anyway), they collectively represent a veritable “island of misfit expenditures” – mostly local projects that would unlikely be funded if they were not tucked into these secretive “project lists.”

Dozens of “restorations,” “renovations,” “refurbishments,” “improvements” and “preservations” are included on the list – with no discussion as to whether government should be subsidizing the structures in the first place (or the programs offered at the facilities).

For example, why are taxpayers shelling out $1 million for “marketing support” for an International African-American Museum, as requested by state senator Deon Tedder. If this museum is failing, why is it the obligation of taxpayers to bail it out? And if it isn’t failing … why does it need marketing support? Also, who is going to track that $1 million to ensure it actually goes toward its stated purpose – as opposed to going in the pocket of one of Tedder’s cronies?

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I’m not singling Tedder out, either … such scrutiny should be applied to every one of these pet projects.

For example, do South Carolina taxpayers really need to spend $3.3 million on an amphitheater in Sumter, South Carolina just because the powerful speaker of the House, Murrell Smith, requested it? Because he’s from Sumter? With all due respect to Smith, that’s something Sumter should pay for.

Same goes for the vast majority of pet projects on this list …

Also, of the items which could be described as core government functions – why are they being shielded from public scrutiny? Numerous infrastructure disbursements are included – including interchanges, road widening projects, water and sewer expansions. Many of these could be eminently justifiable, but their inclusion alongside so many questionable appropriations is suspicious.

There are also earmarks included for law enforcement and emergency responders, which I would argue are core functions of government. Again, though, shouldn’t these appropriations be included in the budget process and debated on the record instead of being tucked away in a secret pork smorgasbord?

For years, this “favor factory” operated exclusively in the darkness. Thankfully, four years ago Democratic state senator Dick Harpootlian and Republican senator Wes Climer decided to work together to expose it. Several mainstream media reporters – including John MonkAvery Wilks and Maayan Schechter – were also instrumental in providing transparency over the process.

Unfortunately, transparency continues to be an issue … as does the purported “fiscal conservatism” of the ruling GOP.

“The state has become a pocketbook for pet projects,” state representative Melissa Oremus told me. “When I scour through the list for necessities, those are few and far between. We have to do better. Do we want to get reelected because we do favors, or do we actually want to be fiscal conservatives as we were elected to be?”

“Looking at these earmarks one would say the answer is just to get reelected,” Oremus added. “There is power in the word ‘no.'”

Indeed there is … we just have to teach our “conservative” lawmakers how to say it to their special interest masters.

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2024-2025 EARMARKS …

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

(Travis Bell Photography)

Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina and before that he was a bass guitarist and dive bar bouncer. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and eight children.

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4 comments

jbl1a May 20, 2024 at 9:22 pm

Rinocrats

Reply
Rebecca Shields Top fan May 21, 2024 at 8:12 am

All these folks need to be voted out. These elected officials don’t even care if it is made public. They forget they are supposed to be representing us. Poll showed 90% or so were for big judicial reform and they ignored us. Same with medical marijuana. All this pork is disgusting

Reply
You're the RINOs May 21, 2024 at 8:36 am

This is what all of them do. They don’t spend less. They don’t spend it smarter. But you guys still vote for them.

Reply
Nanker Phelge May 21, 2024 at 8:42 am

I thought the “republican pork fest” was going to be about the taintlicks making their daily pilgrimage to fluff up the orange turd at his criminal trial, including attention whore supreme Alan Wilson. I guess there is nothing to prosecute in SC so he has plenty of time to toady up to the crime boss. What a shameless opportunist.

Reply

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