On the first day of the new legislative year, the head of the Democrats in the South Carolina House continued to call for accountability from the state’s Board of Economic Advisers. Harry Ott of Calhoun County, who serves on the Ways and Means Committee asked the state’s Chief Economist William Gillespie that if he and the Board of Economic Advisers had missed projected revenues in 2008 by $1.2 billion, why should lawmakers believe their latest projection?
Gillespie addressed Ways and Means, saying that unless the economy picks up, state revenues for this fiscal year will be 7.4 percent less than last year’s amount.
Ott said the board’s projections were unacceptable. “We got a signed document in June before we went home that we had a balanced budget,” he said. “And 30 days later we’re $320 million in the red. For the life of me, if you worked for me I would already have fired you. If I had missed my projections in any business endeavor I’ve gone about, I would have been broke.”
Gillespie responded to Ott’s attack. “Mr. Ott, I hate to agree with you,” he said and they both laughed.
“So does that mean the BEA is going to resign tonight?” retorted Ott.
In response to complaints from the Senate two years ago, Gillespie said his board developed the Revenue Stabilization Funds Plan. That plan will be considered this year as House bill 3037. Gillespie says the state is suffering from long term revenue stream deterioration. He says a few years ago South Carolina had 6.8 percent revenue growth each year but that has now dropped to less than 5 percent.
Gillespie says there are admittedly problems in being a financial forecaster. “Had the BEA come to you 2 years ago to forecast that -12.5 percent, told you that this committee had to cut 12.5 percent, if God had come down and told us and we told you to cut it, you personally would have run me off,” he told Ott. “Nobody saw it coming. And the BEA does not have a direct link to God.”