The State Budget: Deal or No Deal?

I was never really much of a fan of the game show but it did remind me of the upcoming Budget Conference Committee negotiations between the House and Senate this year.

There are a lot of numbers in this year’s budgets , and not many of them make people winners. While there is always plenty in the budget not to like; this year may be the first time since I’ve been in office where it could mean “back to the drawing board” if some “deals” are not struck. Thing is, some of the “deals” might end up hurting our state in the long run.

It will be interesting to see how the conference committee handles a few of the items that I believe may cause a “deal or no deal” vote for our state.

1. Abortion Funding

The House wouldn’t have been able to pass our budget were it not for an extended debate on abortion funding. One which ultimately led to passage that only included state-health plan abortion funding related to protect the life of the mother. With that proviso in place, a group of Upstate members were able to support final passage – even if they had lots of other reasons to vote against the House plan. The House voted 64-52 and it would have been flipped without the “abortion ban” in place. However, the Senate has left their budget abortion proviso to fund instances that include “rape, incest, and life of the mother”. Granted, that was Ronald Reagan’s stance; but if that stays in the budget, look for it to get very, very close to a “No Deal” vote in the House this year…or a flat out “No Deal” at all for that matter.

2. Fees, Fees, Fees and a Tax

Not even the most liberal politician WANTS to raise taxes; especially in an election year. But with revenues down (to put it mildly), what’s a politician to do? Easy. Raise “fees”; those aren’t taxes…are they?

That’s exactly what the Senate has done to the tune of several millions of dollars on the backs of hunters, fishers, and SC drivers.

In addition to RAISING FEES, the Senate version creates a NEW FEE. A fee of $50 per deposition in legal cases. While many can stomach a fee increase, a new fee is another matter.

Don’t forget about the cigarette tax (that is sure to be vetoed by Governor Sanford).

It’s gonna be interesting to see how this all plays out; especially with all the signers of the “no tax” pledge ; many who are up for re-election.

3. Incentives

Much of the focus during the House debate centered on giving money to the Heritage Golf Tournament (if they can’t find a sponsor next year). Something that flew under the radar though was a $15 million incentive package for state airports to lure low-cost carriers. Incentives that appear to have already been earmarked for Greenville-Spartanburg and Charleston. Will this pre-determined giveaway cause Midlands officials to vote against the entire budget? I’m already on record against the Heritage money and the House Budget so don’t count me “in play”. But how many folks may change their support with this latest revelation?

Somehow in Columbia, things always “work out”…vetoes always get overturned…budgets always pass…incumbent Board of Trustees always get re-elected. If I were a betting man, I’d say it’ll happen again and we’ll have a budget…but barring any “deals”, I can assure you we wouldn’t.