The South Carolina House voted last night to remove the $500 million bond section from the state appropriation act, also known as the state budget bill.
Though the vote delayed some needed capital improvement projects, the hard discussions within the House Republican Caucus about transparency, policy and procedure in our budgeting process were necessary . . . and long overdue.
State law defines certain duties for the Joint Bond Review Committee (JBRC) regarding the issuance of bonds. Duties include processing bonding requests from state agencies, gathering data determining need, maintaining priority lists and issuing an annual report to the General Assembly containing this information. Duties are even more refined for the Commission on Higher Education for the oversight of bond requests from colleges and also require disclosure.
As to be expected, this section of state law contains a caveat that allows the General Assembly to ignore these priority reports and determine bond needs as it sees fit. However, the caveat does not suspend the duties of the JBRC and CHE to annually report their findings. They should be required to follow state law – the rest of us have to.
When asked if the annual reports of JBRC and CHE were reviewed before the bond projects were inserted in the state budget bill, we learned that these duties were not being followed by either entity and that any such reports, if they exist at all, would be inaccurate. No priority lists of any kind were ever made available to House members.
We were just expected to vote yes to issue $500 million of government debt based on a list of projects created behind closed doors by a small group of legislators who waited until the last-minute to announce its existence.
Plainly put, this is bad government.
Thankfully, a group of House members stood firm this week and demanded that the citizenry deserves better.