The state budget: “It’s like soup…”

Earlier today the House barely approved the Budget Conference Committee Report by a razor thin vote of 54-52.

As I was reviewing the report the night before and trying to “digest” the compromise the budget conferees had approved, I saw things I didn’t like and noticed that other items I originally supported were no longer there.

The question every legislator asks himself/herself at that moment is whether he can stomach a vote for a budget that is not perfect.

As your legislator, I realize that passing the budget is the biggest responsibility we have as elected officials and, with a deadline looming to allow time for Gubernatorial vetoes before July 1st, the question I asked myself was “should I move the process along by approving this latest compromise?”

As I debated this decision, a colleague reminded me of something our former colleague, Representative John Graham-Altman used to say. It went something like “The budget is like soup. You can’t take the peas or carrots out, you either eat the soup or you don’t!” Representative Gary Simrill (R-York) also paraphrased Graham-Altman’s quote when he presented the report to the full House on behalf of Ways and Means Chairman, Brian White.

I believe he was right. That’s what the budget has become….soup…with some ingredients that, frankly, if left standing alone…not many people would ever support.

Since January, each member has had time to present his or her ideas through the committee process. As legislators, we try to earn enough support from others to have our ideas heard and muster enough votes to debate those ideas before the full committee. If we are unsuccessful in committee, each member has the option and responsibility to present their case for their ideas as an amendment on the House Floor during Budget Week. One way or another we are all legislative chefs contributing to the budget soup.

After serving through a few tense budgets, I can honestly say it’s much easier to ‘just say no’ and work to defeat a new idea than it is to actually stand for something new and advance the idea.

It’s simply much easier to vote AGAINST something than to be FOR something. Not just in the budget; but in politics as a whole. Believe me, no bill is ever perfect; and no bill ever will be.

Our community doesn’t have any bridges or roads being funded in this budget. Our community doesn’t have any schools that will see 4K expanded. Our community probably won’t see any disabled children benefit from choice. But while our community won’t see those things, other South Carolinians will.

There were several reasons why I could have voted no; but, as I pointed out earlier…one of the toughest things elected officials must do is see the “greater good” over “self interests.” For conservatives like me that voted for the compromise and still have a bad taste in our mouth, we’ll get one more chance to make it better when the Gubernatorial vetoes come next week.

I certainly understand why some voted “no” this week. Most of those no votes were solely on principle. But if we simply sent the budget back, would any of these single issues be addressed? It’s doubtful. But that’s how compromises work, you give a little and you take a little.

But before anyone starts attacking their official for the way he/she voted on one bill with so many details and dollars , realize every legislator dislikes SOMETHING in the budget and if you’re curious enough to know what your representative disliked, just ask him or her. Odds are you probably wouldn’t have liked that part either. Again, the bigger question you have to ask yourself is whether you would be willing to hold your nose and support wider efforts to compromise and help address our state’s most pressing needs.

*** For readers in House District 71, if there are things you don’t like in this year’s budget, please contact me here or at the State House (NathanBallentine@schouse.gov) before Wednesday when we return to cast those final votes on the $22 billion appropriations bill ***