The State Budget: What Are You Buying?

 

 HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT YOUR PURCHASES THIS YEAR?

The state budget isn’t a foregone conclusion, and for the most part it’s not some legal obligation – like a mortgage payment – that can’t be altered or reduced at will. The state budget is a transaction in which the citizens pay for certain services, and those citizens have a corollary right not to pay for them if the services are unsatisfactory or unnecessary.

So – taking a look at the state spending plan for 2013-2014, what services are you, the taxpayer, buying?

The first thing to note is that you’re buying a lot more services than you did last year – over $650 million more than last year. This is due primarily to the hefty increases in Other Funds (fines and fees), which grew by $223 million, and Federal Funds, which grew by $449 million. (That includes $1.5 billion food stamp money, which for some reason isn’t recorded in the state budget even though it’s being spent.)

With the House and Senate versions of the budget now being combined by a conference committee, it’s a good time to take a look at what’s really being negotiated – that is, what’s really being bought with tax dollars for the year beginning July 1, 2013.

Expanding 4K Program: The recently amended House budget, like the Senate budget, includes over $26 million to expand the state’s 4K programs for “at risk” children – funding for which would go to school districts where at least 75 percent of students qualify for Medicaid or free/reduced lunch. However, the House version would put half of the $26 million towards vouchers that low-income parents could use to send their children to their choice of preschool program. The House version, moreover, would give 85 percent of funds towards First Steps—which could be used to fund some private programs, with 15 percent to the Department of Education’s public programs, while the Senate version conversely would fund 15 percent towards First Steps and 85 percent to the Department of Education.

Unfortunately, federal studies of national level programs have found pre-kindergarten programs to have few if any lasting educational benefits for children and state-run (or funded) daycare is far outside the scope of core government functions. Of equal importance, it’s reasonably clear that the program will cost a great deal more than a recurring $26 million.

“Obamacare Light” Provisions: After funding “Obamacare Light” in the House budget, the Senate had a chance to take a stand against this new spending. Instead, the Senate budget only expands the funding, including $4 million more for Federally Qualified Health Clinics and $3 million more towards the Optional State Supplement Increase.

More Department of Agriculture Spending: Both chambers add new funds, but Senate adds much more. The House would give the State Farmer’s Market $3 million from the Capital Reserve Fund, compared to the Senate’s $9.9 million. The Senate would also use $1.9 million of this fund towards consumer services for a meteorology lab, as well as use budget provisos to give $500,000 for marketing regional farmers markets, $500,000 to Certified SC Grown Program, $250,000 for a feasibility study of a Greenville State Farmers Market, and $300,000 to Marion County Vocational Agribusiness.

Padding the Corporate Welfare Fund: In addition to the $8 million in recurring funds for the Deal Closing Fund, used to hand out taxpayer money to certain businesses legislators and bureaucrats like for one reason or another, the Senate would add $16 million ($12.7 million from a proviso, $3.3 million from the Capital Reserve Fund), while the House would add $13.2 million ($7.9 million from a proviso, $5.3 million from the Capital Reserve Fund). The House also funds $5 million for a “Business Incubator Program,” compared to the Senate’s $4.2 million.

Growing the Government Workforce: As we’ve recently noted, government is the biggest employer in South Carolina, and both budgets, especially the Senate’s, aim to create more taxpayer-funded salaries. A few instances will illustrate the point. Dept. Forestry: The House would add 12 new state employees ($500,000), while the Senate would add 25 new state employees ($1 million). Dept. Natural Resources:  The House adds 10 new Law Enforcement Officers ($483,725), while the Senate adds 25 ($1.3 million). Dept. Consumer Affairs: The Senate spends $1.2 million on an “Identity Theft Unit” that includes 10 new full time employees.

How Not to Fund Transportation: The House budget contains several provisos to spend millions of dollars on local projects, including $1.75 million for Traffic Management/Richland electrical Building Construction, and $1.6 million for Lexington County Maintenance Complex. The Senate budget contains a proviso that would transfer $50 million to the State Transportation Infrastructure Bank, which could then use that money on bonds up to $500 million.

The recently amended House budget includes a proviso that would direct the equivalent amount of General Funds appropriated to the Department of Transportation to the STIB; the House budget, however, does not include the $50 million the Senate appropriates. Road funding in our state has a priority problem, not necessarily a spending problem, and there are simple solutions to fix it without further punishing taxpayer for a problem they didn’t create and without burdening future generations with more debt.

New Positions for Pardon, Parole, and Probation Services: The House Pardon, Parole and Probation Services budget includes the governor’s executive budget request for over $1 million in funding for 25 new Parole Officers, 6 new Human Services Coordinators, and 2 new Program Coordinators, plus an additional $500,000 for operating expenses. These new positions and funding were appropriated in hopes of cutting recidivism rates (offenders repeating the same crime over and over), and thus cutting overall costs of keeping more people in prison. The Senate budget, however, does not allocate any of this additional funding for the agency.

More Budget Differences:

  • Board for Technical and Comprehensive Education: The Senate gives $17.2 million from Capital Reserve Fund, whereas the House gives $15.5 million. Both give $7.5 million to Ready SC (a program providing job training to private companies at taxpayer expense) and $2.5 million to Manufacturing Skills Standards Council Initiative. Senate gives money to several tech colleges and programs, including $1.75 million to Horry-Georgetown Technical College Culinary Arts Center.
  • Arts Commission: The Senate gives $1 million more in recurring funds for statewide grants.
  • Vocational Rehabilitation: The Senate would use $3 million from the Capital Reserve Fund to rebuild the Palmetto Center.
  • Dept. of Alcohol & Other Drug Abuse Services: The Senate proviso would spend an additional $750,000 on the Keystone Alcohol and Drug Abuse.
  • Clemson PSA: The Senate puts $2.5 million from the Capital Reserve Fund toward agriculture research equipment.
  • SC State PSA: Senate: $860,536 in new recurring funds for the 1890 Research and Extension Program.
  • Prosecution Coordination Commission: The Senate spends $500,000 in proviso spending on the Center for Fathers and Families.
  • LLR: The Senate spends an additional $1 million proviso on Urban Search and Rescue.
  • DHEC: The House budget includes a $2 million proviso on a State Beachfront Management Plan.

To repeat: These are all services taxpayers are purchasing for one year. Somehow it seems unlikely that they reflect the priorities and preferences of actual South Carolina taxpayers.

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