Games Legislators Play: Tricks, gimmicks, and fuzzy accounting in the 2011-2012 budget
- Using money that’s only available for one year to fund ongoing functions of government
Legislators are taking $150 million from various earmarked/restricted funds to pay for ongoing obligations at the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services (Medicaid).
- Using millions in “anticipated” revenue to fund pet projects
$80 million is supposed to come from stepped-up enforcement of tax collections (so-called Maybank Money). In addition to funding education ($20 million) and Medicaid ($28 million), this proviso would use that money on a laundry list of pet projects – $2 million for colon cancer screenings, $1.5 million for home and community-based services run out of the lieutenant governor’s office, $500,000 for the Agriculture Department’s “economic development” endeavors, etc., etc.
- Poor oversight over nonprofit grants
$5 million to several regional economic development organizations, some of which feature lawmakers on their boards. Other nonprofits receiving funding in the state budget include the Greenwood Genetic Center.
- Raiding earmarked and restricted funds
As in years past, legislators have inserted flexibility provisos that allow agencies to use Other Funds revenue to supplement General Fund budget cuts. The budget also allows legislators to take money from restricted funds to support unrelated activities.
- For example, legislators cut ETV funding entirely, but recouped the funding by using revenue dedicated to a statewide public safety communications system. Another proviso cuts off funding for lobbying, but allows agencies to use Other Funds to keep paying for it.
Many provisos dedicate unspecified amounts of taxpayer money to all sorts of activities by allowing “carryover” balances from one pot to another – effectively hiding the spending items from public view.
Lawmakers micromanage the budget through the budget process. Several provisos guarantee funding for specific programs and staffing levels – for example: $200,000 for a head lice program and guaranteed staffing levels at the State House Gift Shop and the Santee Welcome Center.