Throwback Thursday: How lawmakers camouflage how much they actually spend

March 12, 2020

Inside Insight

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SC budget process

Anyone following the progress and coverage of the state budget this week could easily gain the impression that the S.C. House passed a $10 billion budget.

That’s because lawmakers debated only one-third of the funds appropriated in the budget bill – the $9.5 billion general fund, generated by taxes. What lawmakers didn’t debate is the $9.2 billion in federal dollars that House budget writers included in the appropriations package, or the $12.3 billion of revenue generated from various fines and fees, known as “other” funds.

The total budget passed by the House this week is $32 billion, including $1 billion in one-time surplus dollars – the largest budget in state history.

But even that’s not the entire proposed total of state spending over the next fiscal year, because lawmakers don’t include in the budget all of the funds they accept from the federal government. In 2013, they moved $1.5 billion in federal funding – the food stamp program (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program) – “off-budget,” and those federal dollars have been unaccounted for in every state budget since. (The total SNAP appropriations in fiscal year 2018-19 was $876 million.)

Today’s throwback revealed a similar stunt House members tried two years ago – this time moving all college and university fees, which include student tuition revenue, “off-budget.” That didn’t mean those higher-ed agencies couldn’t use the money, as lawmakers simply inserted a budget proviso allowing colleges and universities to spend whatever they collected. All it meant was that the public would be unable to see that spending in the budget.

After public outrage over their attempt to hide their spending, lawmakers added those funds back into the budget totals last year, proving their tendency to ignore the demands of transparency if they feel they can get away with it – and the need for constant vigilance on behalf of taxpayers.

Lawmakers Move $3.7 billion Off-Budget

The South Carolina budget process has been eventful this year:  Overall spending has continued to climb; lawmakers have once again refused to follow the transparent budget process mandated by law; and both the House and the Senate have inserted unconstitutional budget provisos, which range from separate bills that failed to pass on their own, to a data warehouse to track individuals from preschool to the workforce.

Unfortunately, this is not all: Just before sending the budget to conference committee, the House voted to move nearly $4 billion of higher education spending off-budget.

It is important to note that these funds are not being cut from the state budget. They will remain in their respective agencies, who will continue to spend those funds as normal. It will simply be unreported to the public.

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