Senate Clerk Still Mum on Budget Details

March 28, 2012

Investigative Reports

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TapeS.C. Senate Clerk Jeffrey Gossett apparently is in no mood to publicly discuss his chamber’s proposed $12 million-plus budget for next fiscal year.

The Senate Finance Constitutional and Criminal Justice Subcommittee is scheduled today to review the proposed fiscal year 2013 budget for the 46-member chamber.

But Gossett, the Senate’s chief administrator who handles the chamber’s budget, doesn’t plan to be there, according to Sen. Mike Fair, R-Greenville and the subcommittee’s co-chairman.

“I asked for the ability to ask questions of (Senate) staff,” Fair said when contacted recently by The Nerve. “I was told I did not need them unless they are asking for more money.”

Fair declined further comment, referring questions to Gossett, who did not respond to a written request from The Nerve seeking comment.

The Nerve has repeatedly pointed out that the General Assembly typically doesn’t follow the budget process most other state agencies use.The Senate and 124-member House, for example, don’t submit their proposed respective budgets to the governor, through the Office of State Budget, by a Nov. 1 annual deadline as required by state law.

And the Legislature, unlike many other agencies, doesn’t vet its proposed budgets before budget-writing committees in public hearings.

Its long-held tradition of secrecy apparently will continue this year.

Neither Gossett nor House Clerk Charles Reid – that chamber’s top administrator – revealed anything about their budgets for next fiscal year, which starts July 1, until after The Nerve submitted requests in January under the state Freedom of Information Act.

Both Gossett and Reid responded in writing that they didn’t plan to ask for budget increases for the upcoming fiscal year. State budget records, however, reveal a slightly different story.

The ratified budgets for the House and Senate for this fiscal year were set at $18,684,810 and $12,409,112, respectively, according to a document produced by the Office of State Budget known as the “summary control document.”

But the proposed 2012-13 budget for the House is $18,799,788, an increase of $94,978 from the chamber’s ratified budget for this fiscal year. And the Senate would receive a $105,065 hike next fiscal year, bringing its proposed budget to $12,514,177, records show.

The General Assembly’s website, however, lists the higher figures as the chambers’ budgets for this fiscal year, giving taxpayers the impression that no budget increases are being sought for 2012-13.

Among other things, what taxpayers aren’t told is that the chambers have millions in reserves they can tap. The House, for example, carried over $5.8 million in general funds into this fiscal year, while the Senate carried over $4 million, Office of State Budget records show.

Legislative leaders have told The Nerve that typically, they don’t tamper with each other chamber’s annual proposed budgets. Fair, for example, earlier told The Nerve that he didn’t plan to ask Reid to appear before his Finance subcommittee.

The practice, however, has led in recent years to largely unexamined budget increases for each chamber. For example, on the last day for regular legislative business this past June, the House slipped in a $2.3 million increase for itself this fiscal year.

The year before, the Senate received a nearly $5 million annual hike, which wasn’t first publicly proposed until more than three months after the Legislature was in session.

Besides the chambers’ budgets, Fair’s subcommittee is scheduled today to review the proposed fiscal year 2013 budgets for 31 other state agencies, divisions and separate funds. At least seven state agencies and divisions in addition to the House and Senate don’t plan to send representatives to the hearing, according to an internal list obtained by The Nerve.

The planned no-shows include representatives from the Governor’s Office, both for the executive staff and mansion and grounds divisions; Legislative Council; Legislative Printing and Information Technology Systems; Secretary of State’s Office; Comptroller General’sOffice; and state Infrastructure Bank Board, according to the list.

Those entities apparently are not seeking budget increases for next fiscal year – at least for now.

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