Monday, March 7, 2011

Budget balancing will require cuts

Bluffton Today

Much has been reported in the last few weeks about budget deficits in the various states around the nation. We have seen some pretty outlandish political stunts committed all across the political spectrum. In South Carolina, by contrast, the last election provided us in the legislature with a set of marching orders that were clear and unambiguous. We were to close our deficits by reducing spending and reining in the size and scope of government. My colleagues and I on the House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee have done what was required. The budget is scheduled for debate Monday, March 14, on the floor of the House.

I urge you to watch on SCETV. There was a new USA Today Gallup poll released last week that found our state right in the mainstream of sentiment regarding how to deal with our financial situation. In the Southeast, most folks want state deficits eliminated, not with new taxes, but by reducing or eliminating government programs, especially those perceived as wasteful or not absolutely necessary. What we in the House have done is to prioritize spending, protect core government services, and cut the size of government.

Needless to say, I was surprised at a significant minority of the flurry of e-mails responding to last week’s column either questioning the numbers or the necessity of our proposed budget solutions. I must remind those folks that we are not the federal Congress with the power to print more dollars to sustain our credit card lifestyle. While we may, at the state level, create a small degree of budgetary elasticity by the tricks of accounting and manipulating the various trust funds, we are in the third year of 20 percent-plus budget reductions.

That elasticity was used up years ago. Our income is now completely driving our expenditure. You elected me to not only represent your wisdom and ideas in the statehouse, but also to be a responsible adult when it comes to saying “No” to that which we can no longer afford.

The overwhelming majority of you run your households and your businesses that way and now your state also runs that way. So be it. It should be noted that during all this cutting and realigning, we were able to increase the base student investment, the amount we give the local school districts, by 10.5 percent. We did this, in part, by consolidating many of the functions and agencies of state government. We cut waste from the Department of Education based on recommendations by Dr. Mick Zais, the new state superintendent. We combined the Department of Corrections with the Department of Probation, Pardon and Parole. The Arts Commission and the State Museum were moved to Parks, Recreation and Tourism.

And Consumer Affairs is now where it should always have been, under the Secretary of State. Associated legislation ordering these consolidations is now with my friend Rep. Jim Harrison, chairman of House Judiciary Committee. Chairman Harrison and I consulted during the entire budget writing process, and will continue as we move it through the process. Many of you have called about the Heritage bill I submitted.

Please go to, pull up my name and read it. Currently, the bill contains only info on the fiscal impact of the tournament. If the governor cannot fulfill her pledge to locate a sponsor for the Heritage, we must have a contingency plan. In this regard, my job is to educate my colleagues, and perhaps some of you, on the essential difference between a subsidy and an investment.