The Palmetto Insider

The blog of the South Carolina Policy Council

House Budget Debate All Smoke, No Fire

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Yesterday, the House passed Part IA of the budget – essentially the appropriations used to fund each agency. While much has been made of the supposed “cuts” to the General Fund, it was clear from the nature of the debate that representatives are not serious about cutting government.

For example, legislators boasted that while General Fund appropriations for the Department of Health and Environmental Control is being cut by 1.5 percent, the cuts will not result in a reduction in agency employment or programming. Why? Because these General Fund cuts are being filled (for now) with federal and “Other Fund” dollars.

Instead of having 2 dimes and a nickel, now there are 3 nickels and 1 dime. We aren’t really cutting the budget, just moving money from one pot to another.

Most sections of part IA were simply adopted without any discussion or debate.

When there was dissent, it was often times over trivial issues. We elect our legislators to make hard decisions about how best to spend our tax dollars – and during a recession those choices should be closely debated. But, by and large, that is not what is happening in the House right now.

Yet, some legislators did argue for targeted cuts.

Early on in yesterday’s session, Rep. Nikki Haley questioned balancing the budget using $200 million in Medicaid match money that has yet to pass Congress. She said that working the money into the budget was akin to funding programs with money that isn’t available yet. Rather, she proposed setting priorities with the money the state already has.

Later that evening, Rep. Garry Smith proposed five amendments to eliminate certain agencies and transfer their funding to the Department of Education. Smith argued that during difficult budgetary times, it is appropriate for the Legislature to prioritize – and therefore to decide whether certain agencies or activities are more important that education. The five agencies he singled out:

  • Arts Commission
  • Museum Commission
  • Sea Grant Consortium
  • Human Affairs
  • Minority Affairs

Each one of Rep. Smith’s amendments was tabled – following heavily contentious (at least for this Legislature) debate between members. After the amendments were ignored, those sections were simply funded entirely as is.

Given the nature of yesterday’s debate, it is clear the House is not serious about making targeted cuts and will continue to let the Budget & Control Board take the heat for making across the board cuts once revenue drops again. The alternative, as discussed here, is a spending cap that will impose a measure of fiscal discipline and legislative responsibility over the budget process.

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Written by Geoff Pallay

March 16, 2010 at 11:55 am

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