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Budget Shell Games: State Records Contradict Each Other

If you think you’re getting a complete picture of next fiscal year’s approximate $22 billion state budget when you go to the General Assembly’s website, think again.

There are vast differences – gaps ranging from millions of dollars to several hundred million dollars – between the Legislature’s online version (www.scstatehouse.gov/html-pages/budget.htm) of the budget, and a separate budget document, known as the “summary control document,” produced by the Office of State Budget (OSB), a division of the S.C. Budget and Control Board.

Those discrepancies can make it difficult for the public to decipher how exactly their tax dollars are being spent.

In a review of next fiscal year’s budget version (H. 3700) passed by the House in March, The Nerve found that the Legislature’s online version lowballs general fund and total budget figures, leaving out certain funding categories that are included in the summary control document, which is not available on the OSB website (www.budget.sc.gov/OSB-index.phtm).

The new fiscal year starts July 1. The House on Thursday – the last scheduled day of this legislative session for regular business  – amended the Senate’s budget version passed last week. The Senate, however, on Thursday refused to accept the House’s proposed changes, which means the differences will have to be worked out in a conference committee representing both chambers.

Under a standard end-of-the-session concurrent resolution known as a "sine die" resolution, lawmakers would deal with any gubernatorial vetoes on the budget and other specified matters after they return to session on June 14.

But in a rarely used procedure late Thursday afternoon, Gov. Nikki Haley called on lawmakers to return to session on Tuesday - without pay - mainly to pass several restructuring bills, contending that the Senate needed more time.

The Nerve last week requested OSB’s summary control document for the Senate budget version passed last week, but it was not available by publication of this story.

The summary control document is the OSB’s “attempt to maintain a historical record in summary form reflecting the recommendations/actions taken at each state of the budget process,” according to a statement printed on the front of the document. “It is not intended to be construed as a binding, legal document.”

In a brief written response to questions this week from The Nerve, Les Boles, the OSB director, confirmed that the Legislature’s online budget summary, dubbed “Recapitulation” and found in Section 87 of Part 1A of the budget bill, does not include certain major funding categories. 

Those include nonrecurring revenues under a proviso (90.18) in Part 1B of the budget, and appropriations from the capital reserve fund, which are contained in another bill (H. 3701), Boles said.

The House on Thursday sought to amend the Senate’s version of H. 3701, which, as with H. 3700, will require a conference committee to reach a compromise.

Boles did not respond to certain questions this week from The Nerve, such as why summary control documents are not posted on the OSB website.

The Nerve also sent written questions this week to House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dan Cooper, R-Anderson, about the differences between the Legislature’s online version of the House budget and OSB records. Neither lawmaker responded.

The state budget is made up of three main pots of money: general, “other” and federal funds. Those categories are identified as such on the General Assembly’s website.  The Office of State Budget lists them as state, “other” and federal funds in its summary control document.

Following is a comparison of the House’s fiscal year 2012 budget passed in March as listed on the Legislature’s website and in the OSB summary control document provided to The Nerve:


  •  General/State Funds: $5.78 billion (OSB),  $5.35 billion (Legislature ). Difference: $430 million

  • “Other” Funds:  $7.74 billion (OSB),  $7.9 billion (Legislature). Difference: $164 million

  • Federal Funds:  $8.435 billion (OSB),  $8.433 billion (Legislature).  Difference:  $2.6 million

  • Total Budget: $21.96 billion (OSB),  $21.69 billion (Legislature). Difference: $268.5 million.


Unlike the Legislature’s website, the summary control document lists $680 million in state funds above a $5.1 billion “base” amount in four categories:


    • Recurring revenues;

    • Nonrecurring revenues, which, as specified in Proviso 90.18 in Part 1B of the budget, include a $71 million general budget surplus from last fiscal year and $66 million in anticipated general fund surplus revenue this fiscal year;

    • Health funds, which, through another proviso (90.16), include a $157 million appropriation for Medicaid programs from a 50-cent state cigarette tax increase; and

    • The approximate $111 million capital reserve fund (as divvied up in H. 3701), which in recent years had been used mainly to offset mid-year general fund budget cuts and for deferred maintenance programs at colleges and universities.



The Nerve’s review found that the state fund increases in the recurring, nonrecurring and health fund categories of the summary control document are spread among 15 agencies. For example, the Department of Health and Human Services, which manages the state’s Medicaid programs, would receive $435 million above its approximate $725 million base allocation.

Although the House would reduce recurring general funds to the Department of Education by about $12.7 million, with general fund surplus allocations the agency would receive about $87.7 million above its $1.86 billion base amount, OSB records show. Proviso 90.18 specifies that the additional funds are to be allocated mainly toward the base student cost in local school districts.

As for the capital reserve fund, 40 agencies, divisions of agencies, and colleges and universities would share in that pot of money under the House budget version passed in March, according to the summary control document.

Following are the 10 state agencies with the largest proposed allocations from the capital reserve fund:


  • S.C. Technical College System – $23 million;

  • Department of Commerce – $10 million;

  • University of South Carolina – $9.1 million;

  • Department of Mental Health – $8.6 million;

  • School for the Deaf and Blind – $7.5 million;

  • Clemson University – $6.1 million;

  • Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism – $5.5 million;

  • Judicial Department – $5 million;

  • Department of Corrections – $5 million;

  • Medical University of South Carolina – $4.8 million; and

  • Forestry Commission – $3 million


When projected “other” and federal funds are added, the five agencies with the largest total budgets for fiscal year 2012 are:

  • Department of Health and Human Services, $5.87 billion;

  • Department of Education, $3.28 billion;

  • Department of Social Services, $2.14 billion;

  • Department of Transportation, $1.1 billion; and

  • University of South Carolina, $907 million


As for budget information posted on the General Assembly’s website, the Senate version passed last week lists a $5.36 billion general fund budget – $809,597 more than the House version –  and a total budget of $21.79 billion – $95 million more than the House version.

But the Senate version on the website doesn't detail the tens of millions in better-than-expected tax collections that, according to other media reports, would be split between increasing K-12 spending and helping businesses to repay federal jobless benefit loans.

Compared to the House version, the Senate version allocates $80 million more in total funding to DSS, $15.7 million more to DHEC, $11 million more to the Department of Disabilities and Special Needs, $7 million more to the Department of Mental Health and $6.6 million more to the Department of Revenue, as listed on the Legislature’s website.

A handful of agencies, however, would see their total budgets decrease under the Senate version. Health and Human Services, for example, would experience a $30 million drop compared to the House version.

Also, compared to the House version, the Senate version would give some pretty hefty percentage increases in total funding to smaller agencies, including a nearly $2.6 million, or 217 percent, hike to the state Election Commission; a $532,000,or 62 percent, increase to the Legislative Audit Council; and a $600,000, or 48 percent hike, to the state Human Affairs Commission.

The Aeronautics Division, which flies state government officials on state aircraft, would see a hike of $642,370, or 10 percent, in its total funding under the Senate version, as listed on the Legislature’s website.

Reach Brundrett at (803) 254-4411 or rick@thenerve.org.

Budget General Assembly Legislation