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Budget challenge will vex your priorities
By Andy Brack
SC Statehouse Report



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MARCH 7, 2003 - - If everyone in South Carolina donated two cents per day to the state, it would have an extra $28 million in its budget. But you might not want to pay more in taxes. Instead, you might want to say your two cents about the way lawmakers manage taxpayers' funds.

So here's your chance, our first annual budget challenge. Go to the proposed state budget and see if you can find millions in savings. By doing this, you may better understand what state lawmakers will be going through this week when the House takes up the $5 billion budget Tuesday.

A further caveat: When you're doing your "cutting," try to cut from an agency you like, such as education. It's easy to cut from something you don't like. You face tough choices lawmakers have when you have to go after something you like.

Here's how to get started. First, go online to find the phone-book-sized 502-page budget. Here's the Internet address:

Second, pick an agency or agencies where you think you can find big cuts. Because lawmakers have separated the budget by agency, you'll find it easy to go to your target agency.

Third, when you have compiled your list, send an e-mail ( that outlines what you would cut and why. Your suggestions will be posted on the Web site and passed them on to lawmakers.

A couple of weeks ago, the idea of an annual budget cutting challenge to citizens got bubbling when a former student from the College of Charleston wrote raising Cain about state budget practices.

Here's part of what he wrote:

"I did not want to sound as though I think all taxes are bad. Of course we need revenue to provide the crucial services that our state and federal governments provide. My biggest problem is the waste that goes unchecked year after year. If I were to run my business like the state and federal government runs our education system, I would be one of those folks who relies on the government to take care of me and my family."

His rhetoric sounds good. But, I replied, what facts are the basis of the rhetoric? Because state agencies have been through several substantial cuts over the last couple of years, I argued there wasn't a lot of low-hanging fat ready and easy to pluck. The proposed state budget, for example, includes 20 percent to some state agencies compared to the amount appropriated last year.

So he got a budget challenge. Now you do. You could, for example, suggest a few really big cuts to lighten the load:

  • Eliminate property tax credits for schools. It would generate $491 million (p. 336).

  • Eliminate national teacher certification - - $40 million.

  • Eliminate all state funding for the University of South Carolina - - $181 million (p. 66).

  • Eliminate all state funding for the Department of Mental Health, which would put 3,886 people out of work and zap all mental health programs - - $169 million (p. 107).

Or, you could find a lot of smaller cuts and combine them into a big number:

  • Eliminate First Steps training, as proposed in the House budget - - $7 million (p. 14).

  • Eliminate HOPE scholarships, as proposed by House lawmakers - - $5.8 million (p. 15).

  • Cut state funding to Francis Marion University, which would lead to 301 people losing their jobs - - $12.8 million (p. 45).

  • Cut advertising for tourism, the state's largest industry - - $4.5 million (p. 170).

  • Shut down one state prison - - about $10 million.

And then there's one choice that may generate the most citizen agreement;

  • Eliminate funding for the SC House and SC Senate - - $17.7 million (pp. 251-2).

Lawmakers already have cut millions from last year - - so much from non-education, health and corrections agencies that some state-funded organizations face a 20 percent reduction compared to what was appropriated last year.

Now you have a chance to add your two cents into the process.


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