Where South Carolina’s $350M ‘mad money’ went

abeam@thestate.comJuly 6, 2013 

THE STATE

  • Where did the money go? South Carolina had nearly $400 million in one-time money in the 2013-14 state budget – money that is not guaranteed for next year’s budget. Most of that money went to statewide programs or programs that will make funding decisions later. The rest was spent on a mix of construction projects and other programs in various counties, including:

    $10.1 million for Charleston County

    $8.7 million for Richland County

    $7.9 million for Florence County

    $7.9 million for Lexington County

    $3.6 million for Sumter County

    $2.1 million for York County

    $1.9 million for Horry County

    $1.8 million for Greenwood County

    $1.3 million for Greenville County

    $1.1 million for Spartanburg County

    $1 million for Pickens County

    $909,000 for Laurens County

    $750,000 for Oconee County

    $640,000 for Aiken County

    $548,000 for Lancaster County

    $510,000 for Cherokee County

    $435,750 for Bamberg County

    $318,000 for Beaufort County

    $250,000 for Orangeburg County

    $236,900 for Lee County

    $150,000 for Georgetown County

    $118,720 for Allendale County

    $59,360 for Union County

    Breakdown by regional areas:

    Midlands: $21.9 million

    Lowcountry/Grand Strand: $12.5 million

    Upstate: $10 million

    Pee Dee: $8.1 million

— Imagine having 5 percent from the family budget to spend on special one-time items.

South Carolina had that amount to spend from this year’s budget. Its mad money account had $350 million — enough to hand $74 to each state resident.

State lawmakers in the Republican-controlled House and Senate chose to spend some of what they call non-recurring money on land at a state farmers market, a prison sewer system, a plant technology lab and an expanded college summer school program.

Half of South Carolina’s counties benefited directly from one-time spending with the Midlands winning a large lion’s share.

But legislators don’t know how all of the money will be spent, such as a fund for closing economic-development deals.

And they spent some dough to controversially balance the budget, a move that Republican Gov. Nikki Haley called “dangerous,” “irresponsible” and “wrong.”

Republican State Sen. Shane Massey of Edgefield, a frequent critic of how the state spends its one-time money, said the Legislature is dominated by the attitude of “if a dollar comes in the door, we are going to spend it.”

The Senate’s chief budget writer, Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, dismissed that criticism, saying some lawmakers “would just as soon not have a budget.”

“We got needs in this state,” the longtime state senator said. “What we need to do instead of just (voting) against the whole budget, we need to evaluate those needs.”

The one-time money is how much the state plans to spend. The total amount could change once the S.C. comptroller general’s office closes the state’s books later this year.

Of the money earmarked, an overwhelming majority of one-time cash this year went to statewide programs.

They include: $22.6 million for instructional materials for teachers; $29.9 million in aid to local governments; and $104.9 million for the state’s Medicaid program — health insurance for the poor and disabled.

But the final destination remains a mystery for the $16 million for the Commerce Department’s “deal-closing fund” to pay for incentives to lure businesses to the state. The department uses the money as deals are made.

The rest of the money was divided up among 23 of South Carolina’s 46 counties. Some of the biggest recipients are:

• $10.1 million for Charleston County, including $2 million for a science center at the College of Charleston .

• $8.7 million for Richland County, including $700,000 for a new sewer system at the Broad River Correctional Institution, the maximum-security prison that houses death row and the Department of Mental Health’s sexually violent predator program. For years, inmates have been clogging the sewer system with underwear and anything else they could stuff down the toilet, causing problems for the Columbia’s sewer system.

• $7.9 million for Florence County, including $3 million to rebuild the Palmetto Center, a treatment facility run by the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation to help people “whose employment is prevented or jeopardized by substance abuse or dependence.”

• $7.9 million for Lexington County, including $7 million for the Department of Agriculture to purchase some land at the State Farmer’s Market in Dixiana.

• $3.6 million for Sumter County, including $3.5 million for an advanced manufacturing technology training center at Central Carolina Technical College.

The top three counties all benefited, in part, from the state colleges and universities located within their borders.

The University of South Carolina, in Richland County, received $2.5 million for an expanded summer school program.

In Charleston County, the Medical University of South Carolina got $4 million to expand its telemedicine program — allowing doctors to treat some patients via video conference — while The Citadel received $1.5 million for a computer program that will “track students’ leadership activities.”

In Florence County, Clemson University got $3 million to open an advanced plant technology lab to develop disease-resistant crops, while Francis Marion University netted $1.8 million for a health sciences building.

Leatherman said lawmakers’ money decisions are based on need, not politics. “That’s not the way you do a budget,” he said.

But the most controversial use of the state’s one-time money this year was not where it went, but what it was used for.

The state constitution requires lawmakers to balance the budget every year, meaning they cannot spend more money than they collect in taxes and other revenues.

This year, lawmakers used $88 million in one-time money — $50.7 million from the year-end surplus and $37.4 million from a tobacco lawsuit settlement — to balance the budget.

Haley’s veto of using the one-time dough was unsuccessful despite saying its “passage effectively launders $50.7 million.”

“They have been spent ... as if those resources were truly sustainable,” Haley wrote when vetoing the move. “The reality is that they are not.”

Leatherman said the state always uses some non-recurring money to balance its budget.

“Technically, all monies are one-time money,” he said. “I hear people talking about using one-time money for recurring expenses, I guess my thought would have to be they really do not understand the process.”

Reach Beam at (803) 386-7038.

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