What if cold was hot? What if up was down? What if slowing spending down turned into speeding spending up?
Welcome to the General Assembly, or specifically the State Senate.
Only in “Bizarro World” would comments like these appear:
House rule change meant to slow spending could speed it up
By BILL DAVIS, editor
FEB. 1, 2008 — State Rep. Nathan Ballentine was not pleased when he heard this week that a new change in House rules designed to slow spending might actually spur it in the Senate.
“That is not what I fought for in the four years since I came to Columbia,” said Ballentine, a Republican from Irmo.
Ballentine, joining with others, fought to require House members to sign their names to spending projects. Prior to the rule change, unsigned earmarks, often the target of the governor’s veto pen, could sail through into the state budget without the author being revealed.
The thinking behind the rule change was that by forcing representatives to sign their earmarks, they would be less likely to champion projects like a Green Bean Museum proposed for Lake City.
But, as everyone knows, House rules don’t apply in the Senate.
“I always thought the problem with the Green Bean Museum was the name,” joked Sen. Brad Hutto (D-Orangeburg). “If they had called it the Rural Heritage Museum, no one would have had any problem with it.”
How about “La Musée d’Haricots Vert”?
“Nope, can’t do that; the state only allows for the English language now,” said Hutto, who represents one of the poorest and most rural swaths of South Carolina.
Seriously, Hutto said Ballentine’s rule change would be welcomed in the Senate, where legislators were hungry to have their constituents know what projects they brought to the state and their hometown.
Hutto said the rule change dovetailed nicely with the Senate now being able to better inform their constituents as to what their senator was doing.
If, for example, he were able to help land a new half-million dollar Clemson Extension Service laboratory for some corner of his district, Hutto said he would make sure that information would be included in his next mailer destined specifically for constituent farmers.
“Surely, voters aren’t so naïve to think that the people they send here to represent them aren’t going to be looking out for them?” asked one Statehouse observer.
Both Sens. Vince Sheheen (D-Kershaw) and Shane Massey (R-Edgefield) have filed competing bills in the Senate that would essentially require Senators to sign off on earmarks.
“There is a perception in the public that senators are prone to pursue projects they’re trying to hold secret,” said Sheheen, adding that his “supporters hate pork, but they love improvements in their own county.”
Sheheen said he saw a sort of “reverse NIMBYism” coming in the Senate, as legislators will rush to get their names added to bills that would sprinkle projects and spending across the state like seed corn.
But Rep. Dan Cooper (R-Piedmont) pointed out that the House rule could be used against Senators once the budget compromise process started.
According to Cooper, the House, which begins the annual budgeting process, will include signed earmarks in its spending plan. But when it goes to the Senate, it is rewritten. A host of unsigned earmark projects likely will be added, he said.
But, Cooper said, once the revised budget returned to the House, representatives could decide to link any senator with an unsigned project before re-releasing it and both chambers going into conference.
But according to several heavyweights in the Senate, any House “gotcha” on earmarks really wouldn’t be a bad thing because any senator in question would get credit back home, which ain’t that bad in an election year.
Sheheen said his bill or Massey’s bill would likely pass the Senate this year because of political pressure from an election year and the expectation that the general fund was supposed to be much lower than it was last year.
Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell (R-Charleston) disagreed, saying that the Senate didn’t have time to get caught up in a “rules fight this year, especially it being the last year of the session. It would be a waste of time.”
Crystal ball: Some senator, emboldened by the promise of good press back home, is going to put in for an unsigned earmark that will be outed by the House. All will be happy in the Statehouse until the governor gets a hold of it, using it as an example of a pork-crazed legislature gone wild. Of course, the greasiest backdoor funding device will still be around – powerful legislators will still be able to swap undedicated funding with an agency director for something he or she wants down the road.
Bill Davis can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.