By RICK BRUNDRETT
The Senate’s version of the state budget for the upcoming fiscal year includes more than $1.2 billion in surplus money, though none of it would be refunded to taxpayers.
Instead, senators would spend $4.2 million of the windfall on its own chamber and give another $2.2 million from the surplus to the House chamber, budget records reviewed by The Nerve show.
And that’s on top of $23.7 million and $5.8 million surpluses that the House and Senate chambers, respectively, carried over into this fiscal year, according to state comptroller general records. The 2022 fiscal year starts July 1.
The fiscal 2022 state budget under the Senate’s version totals $31.8 billion, which includes state, federal and “other” funds. The Nerve reported last month that senators want to spend nearly $108 million in earmarks – typically funding requests that pass through state agencies and which usually are paid for with surplus revenues – on their pet projects.
The Nerve’s latest review of the Senate’s budget version found that of the $1.27 billion in actual and projected state surplus revenues for next fiscal year, a collective $4 million would be appropriated to the Senate chamber for “reapportionment” and unspecified “operating costs,” with the House receiving $2 million for reapportionment.
In addition, each chamber would receive $250,000 for unspecified “security” costs.
Reapportionment is the process of redrawing legislative and congressional district lines based on updated population counts, which as The Nerve has previously reported, is a typically convoluted process aimed at protecting incumbents.
The 2020 U.S. Census shows that South Carolina’s population grew by 10.7% from 2010 to 5,118,425 residents, though the increase wasn’t large enough to mandate the addition of a U.S. House seat, as was done following the 2010 Census, according to media reports.
The House last year proposed adding $1 million each to the 124-member House and 46-member Senate chamber budgets to cover reapportionment costs. Those amounts could double for each chamber under the Senate’s version of the 2022 state budget.
The Nerve last week sent written requests to Senate clerk Jeff Gossett and House clerk Charles Reid, the top administrators in their respective chambers, for details on the proposed additional millions in spending, though neither responded.
State agencies are required by law to submit their proposed budgets to the governor by Nov. 1. But as The Nerve has previously pointed out, the House and Senate often have ignored the law when it comes to their own chamber spending plans.
Lawmakers also have ignored another longstanding law requiring that the legislative budget-writing committees – Senate Finance and House Ways and Means committees – hold joint public hearings on the governor’s proposed state budget at the beginning of the budget process.
A bill to repeal that law, sponsored by Rep. Brian White, R-Anderson, who is the former House Ways and Means Committee chairman, passed the House in March. The Senate on Tuesday gave its final approval.
In addition, the House and Senate chambers are exempt from reporting the salaries of their respective staffs making at least $50,000 to the online state salary database. The Nerve revealed last November that 15 Senate staffers, including Gossett, had received pay hikes of up to nearly 34% from the previous year, based on chamber records obtained under the state’s open-records law.
As of November, Gossett, the Senate’s top-paid staffer, was making $225,000, an increase of 7% from the previous year, while Reid, the House’s top-earning employee, was making $212,250.
The Senate’s version of next fiscal year’s state budget would give the Senate chamber a total of $22.6 million, a $6.3 million, or nearly 39%, jump compared to the current budget, while the House chamber’s total budget would be $25.2 million, a $2.5 million, or 11%, increase.
Following the COVID-19 outbreak that hit South Carolina last spring, lawmakers voted to keep spending levels for this fiscal year the same as in fiscal 2020.
Under an obscure, annually renewed budget proviso, the House and Senate chambers can carry forward the full amount of any unspent funds from the previous fiscal year, allowing the chambers to accumulate massive reserves.
The $23.7 million surplus, for example, that the House had as of last July 1, was $1 million more than its current total budget, records shows.
The House and Senate passed their respective versions of the fiscal 2022 state budget on March 24 and April 29, respectively. The Senate’s version was referred to the House Ways and Means Committee, chaired by Rep. Murrell Smith, R-Sumter. Any differences between the chambers’ versions are expected to be worked out in a joint legislative committee.
The regular legislative session is scheduled to end Thursday under a House proposal, with lawmakers returning to Columbia next month to deal with, among other things, any vetoes by Gov. Henry McMaster on a final budget version passed by the Legislature.
Brundrett is the news editor of The Nerve (www.thenerve.org). Contact him at 803-254-4411 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @RickBrundrett. Follow The Nerve on Facebook and Twitter @thenervesc.
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