Laws are like sausages. You should never see them being made.
If state budgets are like sausages then the budget ground out by the General Assembly yesterday was part Jimmy Dean and part English bloody black pudding.
The General Assembly adjourned in May with the state budget in conference committee. This means that the House and Senate had agreed on most parts of the budget leaving a number of details to be worked out by the conference committee members – two Republican Senators, one Democratic Senator, two Republican Representatives and one Democratic Representative. Note the split by party; there are four Republicans and two Democrats.
Once the conference committee agrees, a final budget is presented to both chambers for a final vote. If both bodies approve of the budget, then all is well and state government continues forward. If one body votes the final budget down then we enter into a budget apocalypse where every item in the budget has to be renegotiated.
The House budget process requires hours and hours of Ways & Means Committee meetings and hundreds of votes cast during the House debate to create a draft to send to the Senate. During that time, agencies present their budgets to the W&M Committee, individual members seek support for projects in their districts, Democrats look for concessions and conservatives try to direct revenue toward traditional conservative causes such as law enforcement, school choice, tax relief, etc.
Recognizing that a negotiated compromise is a necessary element of politics and understanding that the General Assembly has a duty to pass a state budget each year, I will usually vote for the final budget. Sometimes I don’t. Yesterday was one of those times.
In the past, I voted against the final budget when conservative Republicans failed to gain substantive concessions or fiscal reforms from the Republican leadership.
Yesterday, I along with 27 other conservatives voted against the budget for a different reason. We voted no because the Senators on the Republican controlled conference committee removed the House budget proviso that would stop Planned Parenthood from receiving federal dollars through our state agencies.
Planned Parenthood receives $13,000 in federal funds in our state budget. These funds flow through different agencies. This means that the House proviso eliminating Planned Parenthood’s $13,000 would also eliminate approximately $34 million in federal funds that are tied to the $13,000. The House was aware of the cost when we voted to put the proviso in the budget. Apparently, the Republican controlled Senate thought that the cost was too high.
Yesterday, the Senate took their final vote on the budget and it passed 30 to 9. The 9 were all conservative Republicans. The other Republicans joined with the Democrats to pass the budget. They were finished with the process. They had their sausage and were headed home to feed while leaving the House to clean up the mess.
We were left with the following options:
The House could vote down the budget and force the Senate back to the table. Since the state’s fiscal year ends June 30th, the state would continue to operate using last year’s budget until the new budget was passed.
The House could pass the budget and rely on Gov. McMaster’s line item veto power to eliminate Planned Parenthood’s funding. If the House took this route, the Governor would, at a minimum, have to veto a $15 million line that contained most of Planned Parenthood’s $13,000. For the Governor to completely eliminate all traces of funding for Planned Parenthood, he would have to veto lines containing $3.4 billion in federal funds. Most importantly, the House would have to vote to sustain his veto.
The House could pass the budget and rely on a waiver pending with the federal government. To his credit, Gov. McMaster had already applied for a waiver that would allow us to eliminate all of Planned Parenthood’s funding without losing any other federal funds. Unfortunately, the waiver process is slow and not certain.
So, I opted for the first choice.
This could have been avoided if Senate Republicans had held firm. This could be avoided in the future if House Republicans had just said no to this budget to remind our Republican colleagues in the Senate that some issues rise above dollars.
Republicans keep saying that Planned Parenthood has no place in South Carolina. Apparently, many of them don’t appear to mean it.