Senate President pro tempore Glenn McConnell (R-Charleston) pushed the bill after South Carolina’s Department of Health & Human Services (DHHS) ran $222 million dollars over budget last fiscal year.
“All of these agencies need to understand there is no bailout at the end of the rainbow for them,” McConnell said Wednesday.
The four Republicans and two Democrats present at the Fiscal Fitness subcommittee meeting unanimously supported the bill Wednesday, which would only allow deficits if the Legislature passes a resolution declaring it unavoidable and out of that agency’s control.
Right now, the state Budget and Control Board– a part-executive, part-legislative body consisting of the governor, comptroller general, treasurer, and two legislators– has the authority to approve an agency deficit if the Legislature is not in session. The board’s move to allow the DHHS deficit over the summer angered many in the General Assembly, although the board’s members blamed the Legislature for underfunding the agency.
An amendment unanimously approved by the committee Wednesday would take away that power. The bill moves on to the full Senate Judiciary Committee for consideration next year.
Sen. Jake Knotts (R-Lexington) said he hopes a new law would take some of the politics out of budget requests. Earlier this year, some legislators accused DHHS of purposely understating what it would require in its 2010-2011. “This would prevent an agency from coming in at the beginning of an election year and lowballing what they need,” Knotts said, “And at the last minute coming up and saying ‘we’re running a deficit.'”
The bill is part of a package of legislation pushed by the powerful McConnell that would dramatically reform how government is funded, if all were to pass.
Other proposals the panel passed included a constitutional amendment to create spending caps, stricter tax code interpretations, creating a commission to “streamline” state government, and to require any new regulations to first be cleared by the legislature.
“The climate is such right now, with the deficit debate in Washington and the mood of the public, that if I’m ever to have a chance to get these bills through, now is the time,” McConnell said afterwards, “That’s why I’m moving now.”