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Each Monday, Tommy Tomlinson delivers thoughtful commentary on an important topic in the news. Through these perspectives, he seeks to find common ground that leads to deeper understanding of complex issues and that helps people relate to what others are feeling, even if they don’t agree.

Some people find a lucky penny on the street. South Carolina found $1.8 billion

South Carolina legislators are trying to solve a mystery: Where did $1.8 billion that suddenly showed up in a state bank account come from? WFAE’s Tommy Tomlinson, in his "On My Mind" commentary, says it’s a very South Carolina kind of mystery.

Maybe you’ve had one of those moments when you put on a pair of jeans you haven’t worn in six months and discover a $20 bill in one of the pockets.

It’s a thrill because, hey, you’re up 20 bucks. But it’s also a little exasperating. Because you wonder what kind of state you must have been in to lose track of 20 bucks in the first place.

Well, it turns out that the kind of state you were in is South Carolina.

The Palmetto State, or at least its government, reached down in its pocket recently and discovered cash it didn’t even know was there. Like, a LOT of cash. Like, $1.8 billion. That’s 90 million $20 bills.

That’s also about one-seventh of the entire state budget. Just sitting around, supposedly, in a holding account the state uses when it’s shifting money from one agency to another.

Gov. Henry McMaster, at a recent news conference, summed it up neatly: “We don’t know why it’s there, what it’s supposed to be used for, how long it's been there. That’s a problem.”

I said “supposedly” a minute ago because there’s another twist to this story: Nobody is 100% sure that the money is real.

This is not as outlandish as you might think, because there are times when I’m not sure South Carolina is real. Have you been to a noon game at Williams-Brice Stadium in September, when the heat index is 172 degrees and they play “Sandstorm” for three hours straight? Have you been to one of those fireworks stores at the border on the third of July and watched the artillery people load up in their trucks? Have you been to Frugal MacDoogal, where you can buy liquor and beer under the same roof (if not in the same store), which in North Carolina is apparently an affront to God and man?

I’ve never been a huge fan of Pat Conroy because nobody in his books talks like people do in real life. But now I’m thinking he didn’t write about real life, he wrote about South Carolina. By the way, all due respect to South Carolina for all of this. Reality is sometimes way overrated.

However, it would be nice for South Carolina to figure out one, if that $1.8 billion is real, and two, where it’s supposed to go. You will not be surprised to hear that instead, the state comptroller is blaming the state treasurer, and the treasurer is blaming the comptroller, and various legislators are lining up to blame one or the other.

This might be a legitimate concern for the state’s banking and accounting practices. It also might be maneuvering among politicians who want to end up on the right side of this thing in hopes of getting to spend that money. Assuming it’s real.

The one other thing that seems worth mentioning is this. South Carolina is a deeply red state. Among the standard conservative ideas, two feel relevant to this discussion: the idea of being a good steward of taxpayer money, and the idea that there are not just too many regulations but too many people doing the regulating. It’s possible, in this case, that maybe one or two more good stewards paying attention could have discovered that money long before now.

On the other hand, there’s this: The last comptroller general had to resign after it came to light that a computer error meant the state had $3.5 billion less than it thought it had.

At least this time, the money is moving in the right direction.

Tommy Tomlinson’s On My Mind column runs Mondays on WFAE and WFAE.org. It represents his opinion, not the opinion of WFAE. You can respond to this column in the comments section below. You can also email Tommy at ttomlinson@wfae.org.

Tommy Tomlinson has hosted the podcast SouthBound for WFAE since 2017. He also does a commentary, On My Mind, which airs every Monday.