The South Carolina Senate has given key approval to cut $50 million from state funding to local governments. The issue has had local officials up at arms for a few months, saying that they would loose funding for local services like fire and ambulance service. The 23-19 vote followed contentious debate on the Senate floor, with Finance Chair Hugh Leatherman of Florence asserting that local governments have been spared the midyear budget cuts from the state that state agencies have had to live with, which have slashed a quarter of the spending at some agencies.
Republican Senator Randy Scott of Dorchester County proposed an amendment that would allow local governments the right to reduce their funding of state mandates by the percentage that their funding would be affected by the $50 million cut. That proposal would have amounted to local governments eliminating 4.5 percent of their local expenditure based on the previous year’s figures.
On the floor, Scott insisted that local governments had mandates to deal with, while Leatherman argued that local governments have been given more than they had to have for mandates. Leatherman said “Senator, I submit to you that we’ve sent more money back to local government than were ever needed for the mandates. I wonder what they did with that money? They made a decision, didn’t they? ”
Scott interjected that local governments have had to deal with cost increases. But Leatherman responded abruptly. “Have cost increases doubled in the last six or eight years?”
Scott questioned, “What do you mean they made a decision? They were mandated to fund this, fund that…”
But in the end Leatherman’s argument won. “You’re right, they were mandated to fund things. But they still had surplus, Senator. That’s what I’m telling you. The growth they had in the money going back to them far exceded the growth they had on them.”
That amendment failed on a 22-20 vote.
Leatherman assured everyone that the local government fund would not become a luncheon special that hungry budget writers would feed on regularly to balance the budget. He said the $50 million would be the last cut to that fund. No measure in the Senate budget is final until the details are worked out in a conference committee comprised of both senators and house members, then finalized after lawmakers have the opportunity to override any of the governor’s vetoes.