(The Center Square) – South Carolina's $30 billion state budget goes into effect Thursday with $150 million in governor-vetoed funding for local projects and organizations restored by lawmakers in override votes.
The South Carolina General Assembly, with little comment, overrode 10 of those 15 vetoes this week and restored $150 million to the budget.
It took a little more than 50 minutes in the House and less than 90 minutes in the Senate to secure the two-third majorities necessary to override the governor’s vetoes and formally adopt the budget 30 hours before it went into effect.
The five sustained vetoes trim $2.5 million from the budget, including a $1 million earmark for the Patriots Point Development Authority, funding for the South Carolina Department of Education’s Praxis Core Teacher Preparation Program and a line-item veto of $14 – $1 each for continuing projects that otherwise are not appropriated in the spending plan.
Lawmakers were under pressure when it convened Monday to vet McMaster’s vetoes and adopt the budget before it went into effect Thursday. That done, the General Assembly’s 2021 business is finished.
A fall special session, however, is planned to determine how to spend $2.5 billion of the nearly $9 billion South Carolina has garnered in federal COVID-19 relief. McMaster has commissioned a committee to forward recommendations to lawmakers.
The overall $30 billion spending plan is, essentially, the state’s first in two years. Last session, as the pandemic emerged, McMaster and the General Assembly agreed to adopt a continuing resolution to limit fiscal year 2021 spending to fiscal year 2020 levels.
The measure was a safeguard against an anticipated shortfall in tax collections and other revenues in an economic downturn. But forecasts proved overly pessimistic and, with a flood of federal COVID-19 pandemic assistance, South Carolina found itself with a $1.7 billion budget surplus.
The 15 vetoes were the least McMaster has issued in any of the four budgets he’s signed since becoming governor. Lawmakers overrode 25 of 28 McMaster vetoes in 2019.
All were from a four-page members’ request list of individual lawmakers’ project funding requests, or earmarks, for relatively small-scale appropriations ranging from boat ramps and parks to festivals and lighthouse repairs.
Under the state’s budget process, individual lawmakers propose local project appropriations, which are then all placed together in one budget line item and approved in one vote.
Earmarks traditionally were listed in aggregate with little detail about the expenditure and who requested it. The Senate, however, required in January that earmarks now require a full disclosure of which lawmaker is requesting the funds and what for.
Whether that suffices, however, is a point of contention between the House and the Senate, with McMaster saying the system still lacks accountable transparency.
Senate committees criticized last week “hidden pork” in some House representatives' “pet” projects, such as $2.5 million in grants requested by various lawmakers to help tourist attractions damaged by the pandemic, including the South Carolina Aquarium in Charleston and Riverbanks Zoo & Garden in Columbia.
House Ways and Means Committee Chair Murrell Smith, R-Sumter, said Tuesday he was insulted by insinuations regarding hidden earmarks and was angry the integrity of his committee and the lower chamber was being challenged by the Senate, which he called a "clown show.”
"That noise was an assault upon this body," he said before the House sent the budget back to the Senate after overriding 10 of McMaster’s 15 vetoes.
The Senate quickly endorsed the budget and the 10 House overrides with a two-thirds votes of its own, including one that restored $2.5 million in pandemic assistance grants to tourist attractions it had criticized the week before.