Lawmakers! Your report card’s here.

May 19, 2017

Inside Insight

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legislature

Better hope they graded on a curve

By HANNAH HILL

At the SC Policy Council site, we’ve put together a post-session update detailing what the legislature did and didn’t do. So now let’s take a step back and look at the bigger picture: What did our lawmakers accomplish and what does it mean for you, the taxpayer?

That big picture isn’t very pretty.

From the perspective of solving South Carolina’s most pressing issues, the legislature’s three biggest accomplishments — the roads bill, the pension bill, and the yet-unfinished budget– are a net negative for your freedom and your purse.

For three years lawmakers have been bemoaning our crumbling road system (exaggerating, maybe?), even going so far as to take personal responsibility for killing 18.75 people a week. Finally, they got something done – and it’s not going to fix the potholes.

Instead, it’s a huge windfall for the State Transportation Infrastructure Bank without really changing the present system. The problems that got us here are alive and well and will remain so for the foreseeable future, and the taxpayers are out a lot of money. Nice going, guys.

What about the pension? Same thing. Did they fix the problems that got us here? Nope. Did they throw a lot more taxpayer money at it? Yep. In fact, that was their FIRST solution, not their last. Lawmakers repeatedly promised to tackle reforming the system in “phase two” — which means, “Wait and see what we come up with next year. In the meantime, here’s a load of cash. Go in peace. (And watch the potholes.)”

As for the budget, it’s actually not finished yet. The conference committee is in the process of hammering out the differences between the House’s $27.41 billion spending plan and the Senate’s $27.42 billion spending plan.

This is roughly a billion dollars more than we spent last year. During the gas-tax bill conference committee meetings, House Ways and Means Chairman Brian White stated that the economy is due for another recession so policy makers had to stop spending every dime available, every year. The irony here is almost beyond words, especially since House Majority leader Gary Simrill referred to the House plan as a “conservative” budget that “reigns [sic] in government spending” — but maybe that was because at the time, the House plan was only $27.3 billion.

There’s something backwards about all of this. Conservatives don’t enact spending plans that use every dime and call them conservative, simply because the budget didn’t go up as much as it could have.

Repairing roads means tracing the problem back to the root and fixing that first, not passing a huge tax increase and chucking the new money down a black hole.

An insolvent pension system is caused by structural problems which should be addressed first, not last.

Just a few things to keep in mind as lawmakers begin their victory laps.

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