State lawmakers ended the final day of a legislative special session without passing two major bills: the $6.7 billion general fund budget for the state’s fiscal year that starts July 1 and a bill reorganizing much of state government.
One of those bills – government restructuring – is dead.
However, House and Senate lawmakers hope to meet again at 9 a.m. today to break the stalemate over the budget.
The government restructuring bill, which easily passed the GOP-controlled House, could not get enough support for a vote in the Republican-majority Senate. It died at 5 p.m., as senators were listening to state Sen. Jake Knotts, R-Lexington, read the personal history of Patrick Maley, Gov. Nikki Haley’s appointee to be the state’s inspector general. The delaying tactic by Knotts, an opponent of the bill and fellow Lexington Republican Haley, prevented senators from voting on the restructuring measure.
Writing on her Facebook page, Haley called the tactic “disgraceful.” She had made the restructuring bill the cornerstone of her agenda during her first term in office. Lawmakers will begin a new session in January, meaning any attempt to revive the restructuring bill would have to start from scratch.
“What a disrespectful display of political gamesmanship toward the people of this state,” Haley wrote on her Facebook page, her only public comments on lawmakers’ actions. “Two years of taxpayer dollars and work wasted. Disgraceful.”
Restructuring critics, including Senate Majority Leader John Land, D-Clarendon, said the bill was “flawed and ... not real reform.”
“Simply rearranging agencies into a new bureaucratic alphabet soup does not make state government more efficient and accountable,” Land said in a news release. “The taxpayers of South Carolina deserve to have this issue addressed during next year’s legislative session. They deserve to have real reform and not an exercise in political window dressing.”
Meanwhile, House lawmakers passed a “continuing resolution” that would avoid a state government shutdown should the House and Senate not reach a budget agreement by June 30. It would keep state government operating at current levels, leaving unspent $1.4 billion of “new” money, which most legislators want to use to give state workers a raise and to increase the funding of state agencies.
That continuing resolution could have trouble passing in the Senate. State Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Kershaw, saying he would do “everything in my power” to keep it from passing.
“I am not likely to vote for something that just lets government limp along like a continuing resolution. They shouldn’t use that as a crutch,” he said. “They need to come to an agreement they can present to the bodies on a real budget that moves South Carolina forward.”
House and Senate leaders have deadlocked on a $64 million-a-year tax cut for small business owners. House lawmakers have attached the tax cut to the budget. Senators say that is a dangerous, possibly illegal practice that means the tax cut would not be vetted like a normal bill and could lead to unintended consequences.
State Sen. Hugh Leatherman, the Florence Republican who is the Senate’s chief budget writer, criticized House Republicans on Wednesday on his Facebook page, saying attaching the tax cut to the budget was unconstitutional, adding he has taken an oath to uphold the Constitution.
“My Senate colleagues and I intend to honor that promise. We trust the House will do the same,” Leatherman wrote.
Leatherman’s post angered House Republicans. House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, responded by publishing the phone numbers of Leatherman and other Senate lawmakers and telling people to call them and ask for the tax cut.
Leatherman said Thursday it is “not my intent” to push the budget debate into the new fiscal year.
“My intent is to get us a budget,” he said.
Reach Beam at (803) 386-7038.