Let the Spending Begin!

The state budget process gets into full swing, according to state law, on January 10th. That’s the date by which the governor is required to submit her executive budget to the legislature. The Senate and House appropriations committees, in turn, are required to hold joint open hearings on her budget five days later.

But in South Carolina there’s a longstanding tradition of lawmakers completely ignoring the governor’s budget – even though the law itself requires the governor to submit it to them, and requires them to use his or her executive budget as their starting point.

That tradition appears to be holding true this year. The governor hasn’t even submitted her budget yet, and already the House Ways and Means Committee is starting to write the budget itself. Ways and Means began to review four agency budget requests on the 5th, and is scheduled to review nine more on Wednesday the 11th.

Each agency that requests additional capital or non-recurring funds must explain the reasons for its request.  Here’s a brief breakdown of the requests under review today and next week. (We would include an analysis of the budget requests for the Capital Reserve Fund, Debt Service, and Aid to Subdivisions, but those requests aren’t available online.)

1. Legislative Audit Council – requesting $60,000 in additional funds for new IT equipment and to pay for a peer review.

2. Legislative council – No additional request.

3. State Auditor’s office – No additional request.

4. Procurement review panel – No additional request.

5. Department of Education – No additional request.

6. Department of Health and Human Services – Requesting $7.5 million additional funds in order to get $30 million federal dollars to improve the agency’s medical information technology systems. (This is likely to become one of many instances in which, by being unable to turn down federal money, the state spends millions on the federal government’s priorities.)

7. Department of Corrections – Requesting over $28 million additional funds: $6 million for building remediation; $2.5 for roof repair; $350,000 to get rid of a wastewater plant; $10.6 to build a new food service warehouse; $2.5 for general maintenance; $2 to pave roads and “educate” inmates on road maintenance; $300,000 to consolidate infirmaries; $40,000 to replace weapons; $2 million for inmate health care; $100,000 for an irrigation system; $1 million for a web-based information system for victims.

8. Commission on Higher Education – No additional request.

9. Department of Social Services – $7 million to complete development of the federally mandated Child Support Enforcement System/State Disbursement systems in order to receive $13,588,235 in federal authorization. (More spending of state tax dollars on federal priorities.)

10. Tech college system – $10 million for repairs and maintenance.

In all, 33 state entities are requesting additional funding on top of their base operating budgets.  These requests total almost $822 million dollars, with 78 percent of the requested funding coming from higher education institutions. South Carolina State University alone is requesting $36 million in additional capital/non-recurring funds without even completing the budget form explaining how they plan to use the money. (Our recent report, by the way, published in conjunction with the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, pointed out that many of the state’s higher ed institutions are requesting millions for new buildings even though they’re underusing the ones they have.)

Here’s a breakdown of the top five additional capital/non-recurring funding requests, excluding higher education institutions.

  1. The Department of Mental Health – $ 64,436,783
  2. The Department of Health and Human Services – $ 37,511,257
  3. The Department of Corrections – $ 28,005,475
  4. The Department of Revenue – $ 14,750,430
  5. The Department of Public Safety – $ 9,955,124

In short: We just passed through the Great Recession – indeed we may not have seen the worst yet – and already state agencies are asking for outsized budget hikes.

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