We’re rolling in dough!

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BY ELISABETH PARKER

Where is it? In those ‘carry-forwards’

Every year around this time, state agencies go to the legislature and present their budgets. Legislators inquire about additional requested funds, new programs, and even issues with the agencies.

One thing they don’t often ask: How much do you have left over from what we gave you last year?

Those are called carry-forward funds — and they can run to the tens of millions of dollars.

By law, state agencies can keep up to 10 percent of their unspent allocations each year and carry them forward. For agencies with big budgets, those carry-forwards can add up fast.

The Department of Corrections had over $27 million in carry-forward funds at the end of FY 2015-2016, according to data obtained by The Nerve from the Executive Budget Office. That’s a sharp rise from $7 million the previous year. We asked Corrections about the money — we wanted to know why it’s sitting, unspent — but got no response.

That’s not surprising, although we wish it were. The Nerve has reported on carry-forward funds before (“South Carolina’s billion-dollar-plus hidden budget,” “State agencies sitting on millions of taxpayer dollars“) and has been unable to derive explanations from the agencies.

The next four agencies with the highest amounts of carry-forward funds at the end of FY 2015-2016, not including colleges and universities, are:

Department of Juvenile Justice: $8.9 million

Department of Health & Environmental Control: $4.9 million

Department of Public Safety: $4.7 million

Department of Administration: $4.6 million

The public is largely unaware of these funds, since they’re not clearly outlined in the budget or any budget request forms. It’s that, in part, which allows the agencies to squirrel away millions even as they ask the legislature for more money.

This week, Corrections asked House budget writers for a $1,500 pay increase for all corrections officers.

No one thinks these agencies should be encouraged to spend all their money every year — but it does seem as though requiring them at least to disclose how much is left unspent, to the legislature and the public, could benefit everyone.

Until that day comes, carry-forwards will remain just one more part of South Carolina government that’s cloudy where it ought to be transparent.