Throwback Thursday: How state lawmakers participate in excessive federal spending

March 5, 2020

Inside Insight

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South Carolina budget

In a supreme twist of irony, this week lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee voted for a resolution calling for a U.S. constitutional convention to address the federal government’s excessive spending, and next week they will vote on the largest budget in state history – which includes more than $9 billion in federal dollars.

It is unclear exactly why lawmakers want to risk our rights and liberties in a constitutional convention where anything from the three branches of government to the Bill of Rights could end up on the chopping block – when those same lawmakers’ spending habits are dependent on excessive federal spending.

The fact that nearly one-third of the state budget is comprised of federal funds is routinely ignored in budget debates at the State House, as lawmakers in both chambers typically just rubberstamp the spending decisions made by their respective appropriations committees without questioning why, for example, we need $9.2 billion in federal funding next fiscal year, which starts July 1. Nor do they ask what strings are attached to those dollars and how state policy will be dictated if we accept them. And they especially won’t answer why the state law requiring full disclosure of the attached strings wasn’t followed in adopting the current budget – or in any year in recent history.

This week’s throwback is an overview from the South Carolina Policy Council (The Nerve’s parent organization) of what state agencies are asking for next fiscal year, including increased federal revenue. What’s particularly interesting is the number of requests for increased state spending to replace federal aid or funding that is dropping or no longer available, or to move federally funded employees to the state payroll. This is just one of the downsides of taking federal dollars; it often leads to increased state spending down the road.

What do state agencies want to spend in 2020?

The most important bill passed in each legislative session is the state budget. Every year, state agencies spend more and more taxpayer dollars on a variety of things – sometimes actual core functions of government, but too often on pork, pet projects, and non-essential items like tourism, marketing and politically driven economic development.

Worse, the budget and the budget process are characterized by nontransparency – from the unaccountable way in which the budget comes together (a process which violates state law) to the failure to fully debate and disclose various aspects of state spending, to the layers of secrecy shielding recipients of lawmakers’ largess, to the lack of accountability to ensure those dollars are spent as were directed.

One particularly egregious example of poor transparency? The House and the Senate chambers failed to submit their budget requests at all, despite being funded through the budget (and in fact receiving budget increases last year) and sitting on large funding reserves. As a result, citizens have no idea how much lawmakers want to spend for themselves this year.

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