A recent news story reported how lawmakers routinely funnel funding for secret pet projects through the state budget – a nontransparent process where project details are not disclosed in the budget, and instructions for how to spend those dollars are given by legislative staffers only after the budget has passed. As a result, some lawmakers have promised support for a rules change requiring transparency for pet project funding in the state appropriations bill.
Of course, as longtime readers of The Nerve already know, none of this is anything new. To borrow just one example of The Nerve’s years of coverage on this topic, this week’s throwback highlights a Nerve report of pork spending in the 2014 budget (for more recent Nerve stories on pork spending, see here, here, here and here).
So why is the practice of nontransparent, pet-project funding so longstanding? Simply put, it’s because lawmakers deliberately ignore existing law governing the budget process. The budget law requires both the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance committees to hold joint, open hearings on the governor’s budget. Instead, they draft the budget themselves in a plethora of unrecorded, simultaneous subcommittee meetings – a process that effectively shuts out most citizens and even most lawmakers.
Setting aside the latest phenomenon of some lawmakers purportedly opposing pork spending, this is also why another bill or rules change isn’t going to solve the problem. There are already laws that should prevent this practice – lawmakers just don’t follow them.
S.C. Sen. Paul Campbell serves on the governing board of the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition, an annual event in Charleston that draws tens of thousands of visitors and hundreds of artists, exhibitors and wildlife experts from “around the world,” according to its website.
But the Berkeley County Republican apparently didn’t see any conflict of interest when he asked his fellow senators on June 18 – the second-to-last day of this year’s legislative session – to override Gov. Nikki Haley’s veto of $200,000 for the three-day exposition.
The veto was overridden by a 33-9 vote – more than plenty of votes needed to meet the two-thirds requirement for an override.