Silence Deafening on Legislative Law-Flouting

January 13, 2016

Investigative Reports

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Why bother? It’s just the law.

Two years ago this month, then House Speaker Pro Tempore Jay Lucas (R-Darlington) sent a spirited letter to House Ways and Means chairman Brian White (R-Anderson) asking him a simple question.

Would he support Lucas’ desire to see the House – and Senate, and Governor’s office, for that matter – obey the law?

The silence then, and now, is deafening, and the most important voices not being heard don’t belong to legislators ducking an issue but the general public who is left out of a budget process they were meant to play a role in but never have.

SPENDING THE PEOPLE’S MONEY

By anyone’s reckoning, the state of South Carolina does not, has not and apparently will not follow the law as it relates to the budget process prescribed in Title 11, Chapter 11 of the S.C. Code of Laws (Sections 90 and 100).

These sections, as Lucas writes White, “require the House Ways & Means Committee to meet in an open session, jointly with the Senate Finance Committee to hear testimony on the Governor’s executive budget.”

The section dates to 1919 and mandates that within five days after the governor submits his/her budget, the Senate Finance and House Ways & Means Committees “shall sit in open sessions while considering the budget.” The process involves public hearings in which comment is possible, with the overall intent being clear – the governor drafts the budget, the legislature adjusts with input.

“Since the law allows the joint committee to consider testimony from agency representatives about their budget requests, we could streamline the budget process and possibly have resolution to the budget much earlier than we currently do,” wrote Lucas, who has since become House Speaker with the resignation of former speaker Bobby Harrell in October 2014.

“In turn, this could allow us to achieve a repeated goal of the House Republican Caucus of shortening the length of the legislative session.”

Multiple requests for comment were left with White, Lucas, Sen. Hugh Leatherman (R-Florence) and Gov. Nikki Haley. None were returned – an indication of the unwillingness to bring up an issue that would involve altering the legislature’s stranglehold of the state budget.

“I know we both agree on the importance (of) creating the most public and transparent budget process possible and ensuring that all applicable laws are followed,” Lucas concluded. “I ask that you review this statute and all other governing language, and if necessary join me in calling for the existence of these meetings.”

In the coming days Haley will submit her budget to the legislature, which will do with it what it always does – trash it, then write their own. For Haley, the opportunity to hold the legislature accountable to its laws and gain a valuable budgetary foothold would seem an easy win, but to-date Haley, like every other powerful legislator, is less willing to rock the budgetary boat than make accountable the most-important function officials perform – spend the citizens’ money.

Reach Aiken at 803-200-8809 or email him at ron@thenerve.org. Follow him on Twitter @RonAiken or @TheNerveSC.