South Carolina lawmakers have failed in their primary responsibility to create a practical, balanced state budget, and they refuse to let Gov. Mark Sanford push them into fulfilling their obligation to the state.
Lawmakers ended their legislative session knowing they had passed a budget that didn't provide enough money for core state responsibilities like school buses and prisons, even if the economy held steady. Worse, they knew an economic downturn was likely, throwing the budget even further off balance.
But their pet spending priorities were funded, so they left anyway.
Now their unfinished work has become a bigger problem. State revenues are falling short, and the budget has to be cut.
- Editorial: "Legislative obfuscation", Spartanburg Herald-Journal, 8/24/08
We've criticized the Governor for a lot of things - but when it comes to his concerns about the legislature's fiscal approach, we've largely agreed with what he's had to say.
In good years, surpluses are squandered, and in bad years, shortfalls result in blind and arbitrary cuts. In good times, politicians crawl over each other to get credit for doling out the pork, and in bad times, they can't fix the blame on someone else fast enough.
It's time state government stopped playing the role of the proverbial rat in the spinning wheel. We'd like to put forward three ideas that can help:
The first step to reforming this process can be taken by embracing the efforts by Representative Nikki Haley and Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell to impose roll-call voting over financial matters. Let's establish a paper trail to those who create these problems.
The second step would be to allow the Governor to have the responsibility to make the tough decisions when minor budget shortfalls surface when the legislature has adjourned. As he or she is the full-time executive, let him or her have the power to make minor course changes to avoid legislative wrangling that would result in cuts being more painful and politicized.
The third step would be to restructure the Budget and Control Board, as Governor Sanford has called for, placing the daily administration of the state's assets and administrative matters into a Department of Administration. The Budget and Control Board would simply serve as an oversight board which would be responsible for making financial decisions in the event of major budget shortfalls or emergency situations.
The General Assembly will be asked to take the first step early in next year's session, which we believe is essential. While we hope they'll consider all three, it is imperative that the budget process be reformed before the economic cycle swings around and billions of dollars are squandered once more.