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Even SC Lawmakers Don't Know Details On Some Budget Items

S.C. General Assembly

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- South Carolina's state budget includes millions of dollars for local parks and festivals and to restore historic buildings. But not even lawmakers know exactly what some of the money will be spent on.

Gov. Henry McMaster vetoed $27 million in budget items that he said lacked an explanation or justification.

The General Assembly overrode those vetoes last week. The Post and Courier of Charleston reports when members asked for explanations, they were given few details.

For one veto, House Ways and Means Chairman Murrell Smith was asked about $3.4 million set aside for "historic preservation." The Sumter Republican said his only explanation was it would go "to fund and preserve historic sites and buildings throughout the state."

Lawmakers also overrode McMaster's veto of $6.5 million in "sports marketing grants." When asked their purpose, House Majority Leader Gary Simrill said they go to events like the bass fishing tournament in Lakes Marion and Moultrie.

"They're smaller events in South Carolina but very important to the people who live in those areas who are South Carolinians," the Rock Hill Republican told lawmakers before the 92-14 vote to override.

The money is sent to state agencies, but officials don't find out where it is supposed to go until after the fiscal year starts, when they get the list of what to spend it on from lawmakers.

Events funded by last year's $4.5 million in sports marketing grants handed out by the General Assembly included $50,000 for the black cowboy festival in Rembert; $100,000 for Columbia ballet; $300,000 for a dock in Bluffton; $500,000 for a 5-mile (8 kilometer) trail in Lancaster; and $875,000 for a YMCA in Oconee County, according to state Parks, Recreation and Tourism Department, which dispersed the grants.

Lawmakers say these are very small amounts in the state's $9 billion budget and are needed to get support from certain legislators.

Freshman state Sen. Dick Harpootlian said he doesn't have any idea where the money goes and plans to take a closer look at how the budget process works next year. Harpootlian is on the Senate Judiciary Committee and not the Senate Finance Committee which handles budget matters.

"We've got these projects every senator wants for their constituency," the Democrat from Columbia said. "I don't think any senator got a big chunk of dough, but they are earmarks. They're just not publicly seen."

But Harpootlian said lawmakers aren't the only people who spend money without oversight. McMaster's cabinet agencies get to spend money without consulting lawmakers, especially the Commerce Department when it is negotiating deals to bring businesses to the state.

"All this begs for more transparency on everybody's side," Harpootlian said.