Weekly Legislative Update

May 20 – May 21, 2019

 

What they did:

The General Assembly finished their special session a day early this week, and they currently have no plans to return for any additional special sessions – which will leave any budget vetoes in effect until next session. However, the sine die resolution authorizes the House speaker and Senate president to call them back into session at any time.

The final budget – the largest in state history – passed the House (105-6) and the Senate (32-8) on Tuesday. The total spending package is $29.8 billion – not including federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program dollars (nearly $1 million in the last completed fiscal year), which lawmakers moved off-budget in 2013. The conference committee – three House members and three senators assigned to work out the differences between the House and Senate budgets – removed two Senate provisos that would have placed several tolls along I-95, and a House proviso creating a new program to fund rural broadband infrastructure. However, the committee kept a House proviso creating a sales tax exemption for clothing used in food manufacturing facilities. The Senate originally allocated $950,000 for a “Be Pro Be Proud” program (a program where a “tricked-out trailer” would tour the state to give students exposure to industries), but the conference committee lowered the final amount to $642,500.

Lawmakers also adopted legislation giving major tax breaks and other incentives to the Carolina Panthers. This bill – while containing millions in taxpayer-backed incentives for the team – does not include all of the proposed elements of the deal. A $40 million interchange, for instance, is not included in the bill, nor would building it require special legislation. Another bill that passed the House (but not the Senate) would allow the Department of Commerce to borrow millions via taxpayer-backed general obligation bonds for additional incentives. While this bill has not passed, it could do so in a special session (should lawmakers choose to call one) or next year. Read our full analysis of the Panthers deal here.

Finally, lawmakers adopted a resolution to explore the sale of Santee Cooper, and to explore offers to manage Santee Cooper by third parties. Under this resolution, the Department of Administration will oversee the process of collecting binding offers and would evaluate the bids. At the end of the process, the department will present lawmakers with three offers: one to purchase Santee Cooper, one to manage Santee Cooper, and a proposal from Santee Cooper itself outlining future reforms should lawmakers decide not to sell. The professional experts hired by the department to analyze the bids will select which sale and management offers should be presented to lawmakers. Before the final bids are presented, the entire bidding and negotiating process is to remain strictly confidential – not even the governor is allowed access to any of the information. (This conflicts with the state constitution, which allows the governor to require information from any state agency at any time.) Suffice it to say that this is very far from a traansparent, accountable process that serves the taxpayers instead of legislators.

Other bills passed in special session include H.3137, which amends the local government funding formula; H.3821, which allows advanced practice registered nurses additional practice scope; H.4004, which creates a new end-of-life form for patients, and H.3986, which renames a program.

 

What they said:

As he was presenting the conference committee’s budget compromise to the House, Ways and Means Chairman Murrell Smith remarked,

“This is my 19th year of serving in the General Assembly. This is the first time I’ve ever seen a governor approach us on the beginning of the process to come and ask [sic] us that they want to work with us, hand us an olive branch, and bring us over here and say ‘We want to work with you on the budget, I have these priorities, I’d like to express these priorities to you. Let’s try to work through them if you’ll present them to the body.’”

However, state law requires the budget to be originally drafted by the governor, and the House and Senate appropriations committees to hold joint, open hearings on that executive budget. Moreover, the governors of South Carolina have submitted executive budgets to the General Assembly for years. Lawmakers have chosen to ignore these executive budgets, drafting their own budgets in a plethora of simultaneous, unrecorded subcommittee meetings instead of following the law. This effectively centers key decision-making in the hands of a few powerful lawmakers, and makes it very difficult for the public to follow and influence the budget-writing process.

 

To view the list of the most recently filed bills, click here.

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