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Legislature Again Ignores Budget Law

If you go to the Office of State Budget website, you will see proposed 2012-13 budgets for 93 state agencies, divisions and separate funds.

What you won’t see are next fiscal year’s proposed budgets for the S.C. Senate and House of Representatives.

Although state law requires agencies to submit their proposed annual budgets to the governor by Nov. 1 of each year, the leadership of the 170-member General Assembly apparently doesn’t believe the law applies to them, as they routinely ignore it. The general public typically doesn't get a first complete look at the proposed chamber budgets until months later.

The Nerve first reported in January that the legislative practice has been common in recent years.

There’s likely a good reason why the legislative leadership doesn’t want to give the public a lot of time to look at their proposed budgets.

Since fiscal year 2006, the Legislature’s collective appropriations for itself have grown to about $31.1 million from about $23.9 million, an increase of about 16.5 percent after adjusting for inflation – despite the Great Recession and its lingering aftermath, according to a review last week by The Nerve of Office of State Budget and state comptroller general records.

Throw in multimillion-dollar surpluses that routinely are carried over by the chambers every year, and total available annual funds for the General Assembly have grown by about 23 percent after adjusting for inflation, to nearly $41 million at the start of this fiscal year from $29.8 million in fiscal year 2006, The Nerve’s review found. The surpluses more than covered general appropriation cuts imposed during the recession.

And the overall growth rate doesn’t include $1 million approved last fiscal year for the Senate for reapportionment, or the redrawing of congressional and legislative district lines.

The Nerve first reported in June that the House, on the last day for regular legislative business, quietly slipped in a $2.3 million budget hike for itself for this fiscal year, which was approved by both chambers and Gov. Nikki Haley, a former House member. That brought the chamber's appropriations for this fiscal year to about $18.7 million.

When a $5.8 million general fund surplus for the House is included – the fourth-highest general fund surplus among all state agencies as of June 30, records show – the 124-member chamber has nearly $24.5 million available this fiscal year.

The 46-member Senate started this fiscal year with a general fund surplus of slightly more than $4 million, bringing its total available funds to $16.4 million. The Senate last fiscal year received an approximate $5 million budget increase, including the $1 million earmarked for reapportionment, compared to the previous fiscal year's appropriation, The Nerve reported earlier.

Lindsey Kremlick, spokeswoman for the S.C. Budget and Control Board, which oversees the Office of State Budget, told The Nerve last week that the House and Senate are “not required to submit their budget plan to OSB.”

“The General Assembly is the legislative branch and is separate and distinct from the executive branch,” Kremlick said in a written response. “You may want to contact the clerks for the House and Senate for information regarding their budgets.”

Kremlick did not respond to follow-up questions from The Nerve about why the S.C. Judicial Department – the third branch of state government – submitted its proposed 2012-13 budget to OSB while the General Assembly did not; and whether the Legislature’s failure to do so complies with Section 11-11-30 of the state code.

That law says that by Nov. 1 of each year, “each of the several State departments, bureaus, divisions, officers, commissions, institutions and other agencies and undertakings receiving or asking financial aid from the State shall report to the State Budget and Control Board, on official estimate blanks furnished for such purpose, an estimate in itemized form showing the amount needed for the year beginning with the first of July thereafter.”

A later amendment requires that budget proposals go to the governor instead of to the BCB, though the responsibility for compiling that information has remained with the Office of State Budget.

The Nerve last week sought answers from the House and Senate leadership about why proposed budgets for their respective chambers are not submitted to OSB for advance viewing by the public.

Senate President Pro Tempore Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston; Senate Finance Committee Chairman Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence; Senate Clerk Jeffrey Gossett; House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston; and House Clerk Charles Reid did not respond to written and phone messages from The Nerve.

Only one legislative leader responded to The Nerve's inquiries last week – Rep. Brian White, R-Anderson and the House Ways and Means Committee chairman.

“It’s part of the normal budget process,” White said when asked about how proposed budgets for the House and Senate are handled, noting that they go through public subcommittee and full committee meetings of the Legislature’s budget-writing panels.

Some Ways and Means subcommittee hearings start in December, with the remainder following in January, White said, adding that the subcommittee chairpersons schedule their respective panel's meetings. The House chamber budget for 2012-13 will be considered by the Legislative, Executive and Local Government Subcommittee, he said.

Asked why the House doesn’t submit its proposed budgets in advance to the Office of State Budget, White referred that question to Harrell and Reid.

The general public typically doesn't get a first complete view of the proposed House and Senate chamber budgets until after the House Ways and Means Committee passes the first state budget version for the upcoming fiscal year, which starts July 1.

The Ways and Means Committee passed its version of the budget for this fiscal year on March 8.

By not submitting upcoming fiscal year budgets to the Office of State Budget as most other state agencies do by Nov. 1, the General Assembly avoids letting the general public know in advance how it justifies proposed budget increases for itself. The standardized forms submitted to OSB require agencies to provide justifications for budget requests.

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

 

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