I vehemently disagree with the South Carolina State Senator Dick harpootlian on several issues in recent months – including his continued assault on bars and restaurants in Palmetto state and his active role in blocking the sale of government-run utilities Santee Cooper.
The legendary trial lawyer is completely wrong on these two questions …
Still, I can’t help but admire Harpootlian for being one of the few members of the SC General Assembly willing to constantly question the status quo when it comes to state spending. Lots of lawmakers talk about protecting taxpayers, but few actually go against the herd and actually do.
For starters, Harpootlian has stood up to fiscally liberal “Republican” leaders – and members of his own party – by demanding transparency in budgeting.
If GOP leaders (and their Democratic allies) want to waste tens of millions of taxpayer dollars on political pork, Harpootlian insisted they justify the spending by putting it “online” (i.e. say by listing them as individual budget items rather than burying them in agency appropriations).
Before Harpootlian burst onto the scene in 2019, the secret spending process worked like this: Lawmakers allocated specific amounts of money to different agencies of the state budget without taxpayers knowing what the spending was for. … Then after the budget was approved, they asked the agency to pass the money on to a specified beneficiary (usually a favorite project in a legislator’s home district).
” The final result ? Projects that would never have been funded on their own merits are approved by a shell game… under the guise of essential expenses, ”I wrote last January.
Harpootlian exposed this scam for what it is … forcing lawmakers on both sides to follow a new set of rules when it comes to securing their secret assignments.
Now the Richland County Democrat’s second term is upping the ante – defying GOP leaders (including Governor SC Henry mcmaster) do more downstream to ensure that these special interest credits are not badly spent.
That’s right … in a state dominated by “Republicans,” it took a Democrat to insist on transparency and accountability in the distribution of taxpayer dollars.
Specifically, Harpootlian cited a pair of state laws – one approved by statute and the other contained in an annual budget provision – that allow leaders in the legislative and executive branches to inspect the books of receiving entities. state credits.
The first law – SC Code § 11-9-110 – requires organizations receiving state funding to submit a statement to the Executive Budget Office and the SC Revenue and Fiscal Affairs (SCRFA) office regarding the “nature and function of (the) organization and use of (the) contribution.
Indeed, the law specifically requires that each entity provide “a detailed declaration explaining the use that has been made of the contribution”.
In addition, this law – passed in 1982 – prohibits the state from distributing funds unless the beneficiary agrees to submit to an audit.
“A contribution should not be paid to an organization until it has agreed in writing to allow the auditor to audit or have audited the funds provided,” says the law.
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Has this law been invoked before? It’s a good question. Harpootlian said this week that he doesn’t think state lawmakers or executive officials have ever used the tool.
Meanwhile, a provision that has been included in every state budget since 2014 goes even further by making accountability for these credits mandatory.
“Each organization receiving a contribution under this Act must submit to the state agency making the contribution before November 1 of the fiscal year in which the funds are received, a report on how the funds are received. of the state will be spent, the objectives to be achieved, the measures proposed to assess the success in the implementation and the achievement of the objectives, a copy of the budget adopted for the current year, as well as a copy of the ‘most recent operating financial statement of the organization,’ states the conditional clause. “The funds earmarked in this law for contributions will not be spent until the required financial statements are filed with the appropriate state agency. “
In other words, all this information must be archived for at least seven years …
The provision also empowers the South Carolina State Auditor’s Office (SCOSA) to “review and audit, as necessary, the financial structure and activities of each organization receiving contributions under this law” – and report its findings to legislators and the SCRFA.
Finally, the provision requires that any entity receiving funds from a state agency “submit a report to the contributing state agency which includes an account of how the funds were spent and the measures to be taken. results used to determine the success of stated objectives ”.
These reports are due no later than June 30 of each year – the last day of the state’s fiscal year – and must be provided to the House of Representatives budget drafting committees of SC and the Senate of the State.
Again, however … have legislators ever used these tools? And has McMaster ever requested an audit related to any of those pork barrel expenses?
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Otherwise, that must change … starting today.
As I have often noted, transparency of spending – and accountability of government appropriations – is essential when it comes to public confidence in government. This is especially true in South Carolina, a state that has become a breeding ground for profitable corruption.
This is one of the reasons I have always advocated for an online checkbook – a checkbook that allows citizens to track every penny of their money in real time. Specifically, I argued that expenses should be tracked based on “agency, authorizing employee, amount, category, date, employee name, purpose, the type of payment (cash, credit card, check, transfer, etc.) and the supplier ”. In addition, the state must provide “searchable and up-to-date records” of these expenditures.
But spending reform must go even further than that …
The state government needs a complete overhaul of its ethics laws to prohibit lawmakers and other public officials from playing the system on behalf of themselves, their businesses, and / or members of their community. family. And there must be real consequences when these laws are broken.
Hopefully Harpootlian will expand his agenda to include these reforms … and hopefully other lawmakers will join him in demanding that McMaster and other GOP leaders start using the tools they already have on behalf of taxpayers.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Will folks is the founding editor of the newspaper you are reading now. Prior to founding FITSNews he was the press secretary to the Governor of South Carolina and before that he was a bassist and scuba bar bouncer. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children. And yes, he has a LOT of hats (including the Washington Senators cover pictured above).
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