State senators: To reform South Carolina earmark spending, follow the law

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State Sens. Dick Harpootlian and Wes Climer have joined forces in calling out South Carolina lawmakers and officials, including Gov. Henry McMaster, for “not doing their jobs” in properly vetting earmarks under two state laws.

Harpootlian, D-Richland, and Climer, R-York, in co-signed letters to the State Fiscal Accountability Authority, the South Carolina Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office (SCRFA) and the Executive Budget Office, cited state law that requires organizations receiving state funding to submit statements to the Executive Budget Office and SCRFA regarding the “nature and function of (the) organization and use of (the) contribution.”

The letter also noted a proviso included in every state budget since 2014 empowers the South Carolina Office of the State Auditor (SCOSA) to “review and audit” earmark appropriations.

Fiscal conservatives have been lobbying lawmakers for years to increase transparency in earmarks, which are appropriation requests for local projects submitted by individual lawmakers traditionally listed in aggregate in the state budget with little detail.

Harpootlian and Senate Majority Leader Sen. Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, pushed the Senate in January to mandate listing in detail any earmark not requested by a state agency with the name of the sponsor.

McMaster praised the new measures but said they didn’t go far enough in vetoing 15 earmark appropriations.

Lawmakers in both chambers, however, restored the $152.2 million in earmark spending with override votes before the state’s $30 billion budget went into effect July 1.

Harpootlian told reporters Wednesday the General Assembly need not debate transparency when all that’s necessary is enforcing existing laws.

“I’m flummoxed that government (officials) at the highest levels are not doing their jobs,” he said.

Harpootlian and Climer want SCOSA to audit earmarks for three fiscal years – from 2017 to 2020 – to reveal how hundreds of recipients spent tens of millions of taxpayer dollars.

In their letter to State Fiscal Accountability Authority Director Grant Gillespie, Hartpootlian and Climer wrote, “When requested by you, the State Auditor is required to review and audit the financial structure and activities of each organization receiving contributions from the Appropriations Act and make a report to the General Assembly.”

State Fiscal Accountability Authority members are McMaster; Treasurer Curtis Loftis; Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom; Sen. Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence; and Rep. Murrell Smith, R-Sumter.

But, “When the State Auditor, George L. Kennedy, CPA, was asked about the review, he indicated he has never received an audit request to examine any organizations funded by the Appropriations Act. Accordingly, we therefore assume there has never been a report made to the General Assembly,” the letter read.

A five-page report released last year by the state’s inspector general’s office found 73% of groups receiving money over a two-year period never showed how they spent $43 million.

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