June 20, 2024

The Nerve Archive

Where Government Gets Exposed

Throwback Thursday: the legal budget process (and how lawmakers violate it)

SC budget process

In the next couple of weeks, the House will “debate” the budget passed last week by the Ways and Means Committee, so it’s a good time to remind everyone that this is not the way the budget is supposed to come together.

Last fall, the SCPC research team shared a detailed overview of what state law says about how the budget process is supposed to work. For instance, the Governor collects detailed, zero-based agency budget requests (which should include all federal funding the agency is receiving); the Comptroller General supplies the Governor with detailed financial information and an estimate of the state’s needs; and the Governor submits an executive budget that must include, among many other things, line items for all expenditures, revenue estimates, and proposed borrowings. Finally, the House and Senate are to hold joint open hearings on the Governor’s budget, which they can amend as needed.

How much of this was done? The agency budget requests only included requested changes from last year’s appropriations; the Comptroller General did not submit all the required financial information by the Nov. 1 deadline, and he did not send the required estimate of the state’s financial needs at all. The Governor’s budget was also missing pieces of required information – notably the estimated new borrowing for the upcoming fiscal year and a financial statement that should include current liabilities and the state deficit.

And of course, the joint open budget hearings were not held – as they never have been. This week’s throwback is a reminder of how that process is supposed to work.

The Budget Process: A Quick Primer

The budget process spelled out in state law is a thorough, deliberate process, designed to inform citizens at every stage and to maximize their input into the spending of taxpayer dollars. Unfortunately, lawmakers consistently flout this law in favor of a process that centers key decision-making in the hands of a few powerful lawmakers.

Here’s a timeline of the legal budget process, and who you can hold accountable at every stage.

November 1: Agency budget requests, and last year’s spending details

By the beginning of November, all state agencies should have submitted their budget reports to the Governor. These reports must include a) every dollar – new and recurring – they want to spend next year, b) where they are getting the money, and c) what they want to spend it on.

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