Remember Cindi Scoppe’s column about how inexcusable it was for the final version of the budget to be set by two men, rather than the traditional conference committee?
And remember Shane Massey’s “coup” speech in which he cited that as one of the reasons he opposed Hugh Leatherman as Senate president pro tempore?
Well, now Ann Timberlake of the Conservation Voters of South Carolina is offering a specific example of how such lack of transparency can hurt, at least from her organization’s perspective — although she does give Leatherman credit for leaving the door open to revisiting the matter:
We win some and we lose some at the State House but we are most likely to lose when decisions are made behind closed doors.
In March, we celebrated when the House approved the full amount that estimates projected for the Conservation Bank from the normal Deed Stamp formula (around $10.5 million). The vote was transparent and decisive at 111-5 and 41-3 in the Senate.
But things changed when Representatives and Senators delegated their responsibilities for finalizing the budget to two individuals: the House Ways & Means Chair (Rep. Brian White) and the Senate Finance Chair (Sen. Hugh Leatherman). This is the first time in recent memory that a transparent Conference Committee was circumvented. It likely happened because there were few differences between the House and Senate budgets and there were more revenues projected by the Board of Economic Advisors.
What could not have happened in the open, however, happened behind closed doors. In the final budget that legislators approved on a quick and simple “up or down” vote, the Bank’s revenues were capped at last year’s authorization level of $9.8 million – roughly $2 million less than the BEA’s revised estimate of $12 million for the Bank.
Do you realize what the Bank can do with $2 million dollars? Last November, for example, just under $1 million was approved for the Angel Oak Preserve in Charleston County. In April, 2013, $1.5 million purchased 1,548 acres of the iconic “Nine Times” tract south of Scenic 11 in Pickens County. This April, $1.15 million went to acquire the Rocky Point Landing in Georgetown County and just over $2 million put conservation easements on approximately 8 miles of Santee River frontage. The list goes on and more information is at http://sccbank.sc.gov/
The good news is that Senator Leatherman prevailed in keeping the disputed $2 million frozen in the Bank’s account, so there is a possibility that the General Assembly’s “Other Funds Committee” could “un-freeze” these funds for the Bank’s use later in the year.
Only a handful of legislators knew that they were voting for less dollars for the Conservation Bank when they voted for the budget. You should let your Representative and Senator know that you expect them to retain control of the budget process in years to come. We cannot let what happened to the Conservation Bank go unnoticed and your voice makes a difference. Thank you.
Conservation Voters of South Carolina www.cvsc.org