Hey Senators, Here’s What to Cut
WE KNOW, YOU WON’T CUT MUCH. BUT COULD YOU AT LEAST SKIM A LITTLE?
The Senate is set to take up the budget recently approved by the Senate Finance Committee. When including General Funds, Other Funds, and Federal Funds (and the federal food stamp funds lawmakers for some reason no longer include in the budget), senators will be asked to approve a record $25.1 billion budget.
Senators aren’t suddenly going to recognize that it doesn’t take $25 billion to run South Carolina’s government. Nor are they going to return any of that money, even if they admit that billions of it are wasted on frivolous “services” that the private sector could perform far better.
We get that. But it’s our duty to point out the completely sane and responsible cuts they could make if they chose to.
Over $2 Million in Lawmaker Pay Raises
The Senate Finance budget increases the in-district compensation of all members of the General Assembly from $1,000 to $2,000 per month. This effectively adds up to a $12,000 pay increase for every lawmaker and increases the Senate Legislative Department budget by over $550,000 and the House Legislative Deptartment budget by over $1.5 million.
South Carolina has a part-time legislature, and it should remain that way. The more lawmakers get paid, the closer they become to full-time politicians. If they feel their legislative duties take too much of their time – and they do – they should shorten session, not increase their pay.
But let’s just be brutally frank about it. The legislature as a whole has done absolutely nothing to warrant a $12,000 pay increase. For most South Carolinians, a $12,000 pay increase is extremely rare, and when it happens, it’s earned.
Ramping up the Corporate Welfare Fund to over $45 million
Like the House budget, the Senate Finance budget includes big increases in tax dollars used to give to bureaucrat- and lawmaker-selected private businesses through the Deal Closing Fund. With $12.4 million in the barely readable Section 1B of the budget, $24.9 million in the Capital Reserve Fund, and $8 million in the General Fund, the Senate Finance budget plans on redistributing over $45 million in tax dollars to private businesses.
This is nothing but old fashioned wealth redistribution. Only instead of redistributing it to those with lower incomes, the Deal Closing Fund redistributes the money to multimillion-dollar corporations.
TransformSC, Other Items Funded in 1B Slush Fund
Section 1B of the budget includes a plethora of hidden budget items not included in the regular Section 1A of the budget, including $200,000 for TransformSC – a relatively new initiative being pushed by leaders of the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce, and some of the biggest companies in the state. The initiative’s goal is to “create a new system of learning that will produce high school graduates ready to compete in a global economy.”
Neither more money nor more government- and corporate-directed planning will improve educational results. In any case, TransformSC’s leaders haven’t even taken a position on the most consequential and controversial issue in public education – the federalized standards and assessments regime known as Common Core.
But leave that aside. If it has the backing of Chamber leaders and the biggest companies in the state, there is absolutely no reason for it to be taking tax dollars.
Other examples of questionable items would be $2 million for the Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism’s “Sports Development Fund”; $200,000 (again) for the Southeastern Wildlife Expo; and millions of dollars for projects at higher education institutions.
Throwing More Money at Failed Education System, Expanding 4K
The Senate Finance budget, like the House budget, includes funding for aspects of the governor’s education plan – which also happen to be included as part of the Read to Succeed Act. (That bill hasn’t yet to passed both legislative chambers.) Aside from general increases to education funding, the budget includes roughly $29.5 million for Summer Reading Camps and $6 million for Reading Coaches. While it might seem intuitive that more money spent on education will produce better educational results, that unfortunately isn’t true. If lawmakers and the governor really want to improve academic outcomes of students, they’d implement real school choice solutions rather than continue to make a broken system more expensive to maintain.
Unlike the House budget, however, the Senate Finance budget also includes $24.5 million to expand full-day 4K to 12 more districts. The programs haven’t produced substantial improvement before. It’s simply not believable that they will with more money.
Billions More in Transportation Debt
While a $100 million increase certainly isn’t chump change, it’s important to note that this relatively small amount in comparison to a $25 billion plus budget will likely turn into billions of dollars’ worth of debt through the State Infrastructure Board’s power to bond out these tax dollars. If fixing roads and bridges is going to be a priority of the legislature and governor, then it should be funded through the Deptartment of Transportation General Fund, and not bonded out by a board that has historically prioritized expansions over improvements (and then only to a few select counties) and transferring the cost to future generations of South Carolinians.
Keeping State Policies Subject to the Whim of Federal Regulators
With roughly $9.4 billion of the state’s $25 billion-plus budget coming from the federal government, this budget keeps South Carolina beholden to federal regulators. That’s true health in education, transportation, and health care policy (only $1.1 billion of the state’s $6.8 billion Health and Human Services budget is actually funded by the state). South Carolina’s dependence on federal funds also makes it subject to the strings attached to the money.
But state lawmakers aren’t going to turn down a dime of federal money. We get that, too. At the very least, however, they should treat federal funds like a publicly visible contract in which both parties are fully aware – that is, in which both state taxpayers and federal regulators are aware – of the obligations involved. Taxpayers should be fully apprised of the sovereignty their state would forfeit in order to get federal money before that transaction takes place.
Until then, the most realistic “budget cutting” scenario is to skim some of the top of the budget. This week, senators will have that opportunity.