35-81 has become a bad number for county and municipal leaders and local council members around the state. That is the number of the bill that recently passed the South Carolina House, which requires the suspension of the Local Government Fund. Opponents say that if the measure is not stopped in the senate, 4.5 percent of the general fund, around $ 50 million this year, will not go to local governments. A bi-partisan group of state senators gathered at the statehouse Tuesday to attack the bill, including Spartanburg Senator Glenn Reece, a democrat, who says local governments can’t afford anymore cuts. Spartanburg County stands to lose $2.6 million. Reece said, “We do intend to support our counties and our cities back home, so I’ll be doing my part to make sure we get funded back home and take care of the issues because the mandates are killing these counties and these cities.”
Opponents also say that such a cut could grow at any time and that if the cut becomes law this year, the local funding formula may be suspended in future years. The House originally proposed taking $122 million from the local government fund. House members reduced that last week.
Sumter democrat Phil Leventis says cutting out the local government funding formula brings back memories. “I have been in this legislature long enough to know how the system used to work before we had this formula,” said Leventis. “About budget time, we would work and look at our agencies and we look at our employees and we knew their needs and we would try to meet them.
“Then, at the end we would say, ‘where are we going to balance the budget?’ and it would be on the backs of local governments. Do you remember that?” Leventis says lawmakers don’t need to return to those days when local governments had to pay in the end.
Democratic Senator Yancey McGill of Williamsburg County says he and other lawmakers understand home rule, which they implemented decades ago, which passes power to local people. McGill understands it especially well, for he began his political career in local government. “I can tell you that I’m a former mayor and a former city councilman in Kingstree and I can tell you I remember those days when we used to crawl around on our knees and get them bloody begging for help from any direction we could get that help from,” said McGill.
McGill says state lawmakers love to send mandates to local governments. Senate Minority Leader John Land of Calhoun County added that this is no time to tie the hands of local leaders, with all they have to deal with in a severe recession.