Is there pork on your fork?

March 24, 2017

Inside Insight

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By ELISABETH PARKER

Sneaky provisos come out, come out

Each year the legislature passes provisos within the appropriations bill: one-year laws that sunset with each year’s budget and may not go against a law. They give legislators an easy way to pass pork or ill-advised public policy without much scrutiny.

One proviso that has reappeared each year is 1.52. It requires funding the Lee and Kershaw County School District bus shops at the same level as the previous fiscal year. There’s no reason given within the proviso as to why these two bus shops are singled out from the other school districts. Lee County is one of the poorest in the state, so this addition could stem from the fear of a lack of funding resulting in a joint Lee and Kershaw County bus shop. But whatever the rationale, the Department of Education or the school districts should be able to decide what bus shops to close or combine – not the legislature.

Another proviso the legislature attempted to sneak into the budget this year was for a Competitive Grants Program. It would have funneled grants, a politically innocuous term for pork, to specific projects in areas such as the environment, economic development, and tourism. A review committee would have been created, including senior legislators like the president pro tem of the Senate, the House speaker, and the chairs of Ways and Means and Finance, giving these individuals even more power. The proviso was taken out once Governor Henry McMaster vowed to veto it. However, it’s a perfect example of unwise policy sneaked into the budget.

Oftentimes, legislators will use provisos to attempt to raise pay for themselves or others. In proviso 57.5, the house doubled the expense allowance for Supreme Court justices and Court of Appeals, Family Court, and Circuit Court judges, and any retired judge who receives payment for performing full-time judicial duties. It currently is $500; if the proviso passes as is, it would be $1,000. This lets judges receive greater expense compensation without going through the appropriate channels that bills must follow.

Because provisos are part of a much larger bill and there are almost 250 pages of them, they receive far less examination than legislation that would do similar things. Instead, they’re simply tacked onto the end of each year’s appropriations bill, although they hold the force of law. Legislators add pet projects and extra money there — and it’s all done in the half-light, without the debate that keeps government more accountable.

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