Budget board finds millions to offset cuts
Plan would cover $25 million slashed from state money

By RODDIE BURRIS – rburris@thestate.com

The state agency thought to have been vetoed out of existence, along with the Confederate Relic Room and Museum, likely will continue business as usual.

The State Budget and Control Board is working on a plan that would cover the $25 million cut to its state appropriations, using funds it already has in accessible accounts.

Nearly two weeks ago, Gov. Mark Sanford vetoed – and the House sustained – all of the state appropriations earmarked for the board.

So it may come as a shock to South Carolina residents that a state agency has that kind of money at its disposal to absorb a $25 million cut, especially when the Palmetto State is facing a $462 million revenue shortfall this year, and a $1 billion shortfall next fiscal year.

The agency said the plan still is incomplete. But Sanford’s office said it is working with the board on the plan, and that perhaps none of the agency’s 182 employees will have to be let go as a result of the cut.

Sanford’s office also said no cuts should be necessary in the 2010-2011 budgets for the S.C. Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum or the State Budget Office.

“The Board’s staff is working to create a plan that would comply with the governor’s directive in his veto message,” the State Budget and Control Board said in an issued statement Thursday. “We do not have any further information at this time, but we hope to complete this work soon.”

Sanford issued the eyebrow-raising cut of the agency’s general operating expenses two weeks ago in a $314 million line-item veto flurry covering 107 general fund expenditures.

The House of Representatives, in an equally surprising move, sustained the State Budget and Control Board veto and 50 others last week.

The General Assembly returns to Columbia Tuesday to finish the budget vetoes and take up any other new vetoes Sanford could issue by then.

Thirteen bills are on the governor’s desk, which he must act upon by Saturday night, or allow them to become law.

Sanford already has enjoyed his best veto record in his eight years in office, and said the budget vetoes were necessary to bring the state’s spending in line with its declining revenue intake.

The board, created in 1919 to function in many regards as a de facto state chief executive officer, balked initially at last week’s veto, indicating it could possibly “scrounge up” a few million dollars to help offset the budget cut. Sanford, however, said last week the board had access to at least $60 million in unrestricted accounts that could be accessed to cover the agency’s operating expenses this year.

This week he revised that figure. “With $1.4 billion in cash reserves, and roughly $70 million in unrestricted cash now sitting in their bank accounts, we’re confident that the board can continue its current operations, and we’re committed to working with them on this front,” Sanford said. “For the board’s leadership to suggest otherwise, and even threaten to fire employees or cut essential services, is simply short-sighted, and we believe irresponsible.”

The State Budget and Control Board employs about 1,100 people, and has a total annual budget topping $226 million. It is the umbrella agency that manages dozens of functions in state government, from information technology to the state retirement system.

The Confederate Relic Room and State Military Museum, which takes in $765,000 in state money, employs seven people full time and three part time.

Museum officials declined to comment on the impact the budget cut would have on its operations or how they think the situation might be resolved.

Last week, however, the museum claimed the veto would cause it to close. “If this veto is not overridden, the museum will have to cease operations,” said museum director W. Allen Roberson in a newsletter and talking points memo aimed at putting pressure on lawmakers to override Sanford.

“In his veto message to the General Assembly, the governor stated that he was taking this action because the ‘board has sufficient carry-forward and other funds to maintain its operations in this fiscal year.’

“This is not correct. There are not sufficient funds to make up the $25.2 (million) general fund cut to the board, which includes $765,000 for the museum,” Roberson said.

The House sustained the museum veto cut by a 29-80 vote. Once the House acted to sustain Sanford the Senate’s opinion did not matter, as both chambers must agree by two-thirds to override a gubernatorial veto.

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