By Paul Gable
This legislative session could go down in history as the one during which the S.C. General Assembly broke the banks of local governments.
The S.C. House passed H.3374 last week, permanently cutting the local government fund and removing any formula for its calculation in the future.
The LGF, or Local Government Revenue Sharing Fund as it will be called in the future, will be funded over the next two years at the same level it is funded in the current fiscal year budget, or approximately 30% below the level of funding required by state statute.
However, the wording in Sec. 6-27-30 (A) in the amended bill states, “In the annual general appropriations act, the General Assembly must appropriate funds to the Local Government Revenue Sharing Fund.”
That statement is so broad, any amount of funds would seem to satisfy it. There is some mention later about any year in which state revenue is projected to increase, the LGF must increase by the same percentage up to a maximum of five percent.
But, the S.C. General Assembly, in many years, did not return 4.5% of last year’s revenue to local governments as is currently required by the law governing the LGF.
Can you imagine the tricks it will get up to with no minimum statutory percentage required?
But, county councils will be held firmly to Sec. 6-27-55, “From the funds provided…, a county council shall provide a reasonable amount of funds for all county offices of state agencies for which the council is required to provide funding by state law.”
The bottom line here is more local government revenue will be sucked up funding state mandates, leaving less for local government services – you know fire, police and that sort of thing.
Road maintenance is another area where the state will shift costs to local governments.
Transfer of approximately 50% of roads currently maintained with state funds to local government responsibility seems to be a virtual certainty.
In addition to H.3579, which accomplishes this on the House side, Senate bill S.523, which was introduced last week by Sen. Ray Cleary goes one step further.
Wording in that bill authorizes the S.C. Department of Transportation to require counties to assume responsibility for ANY (and by extension ALL) of the roads within that county currently maintained by SCDOT. Upon transfer, the county will be responsible for maintenance of the roads transferred to SCDOT standards.
There is provision S.523 to provide more C funds to County Transportation Commissions to help cover this excess cost, but, CTC’s are independent from county government and will not be bound to spend additional revenues on maintenance of roads forced on the counties.
Any required transfer of roads should do away with the CTC and give all C funds directly to the county government. Those funds will not be nearly enough to pay for the maintenance of the transferred roads, let alone any roads currently in the county system, but a little is better than nothing.
This legislation is another transfer of state responsibility and cost to county governments by unfunded mandate.
The S.C. General Assembly is getting quite good at this type of behavior and citizens understand little of what really happens in Columbia to call their respective legislators on these shenanigans. They are a way for the S.C. General Assembly to transfer blame to local governments when it is really Columbia where the problems lie.