S.C. surplus comes up short; $15 million in projects axed
COLUMBIA — South Carolina’s lower-than-expected surplus means $15 million worth of projects won’t get funded after all.
The state’s chief accountant said in his fiscal-year closing report that the surplus for 2011-12 came in $14.7 million less than state economic advisers expected. That’s because sales tax collections were not as robust in May and June as anticipated, according to the comptroller general’s office.
“Budgeting in these uncertain economic times is challenging,” Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom said in Wednesday’s report.
The Legislature designated the nearly $400 million in anticipated surplus as part of the 2012-13 budget. Those one-time designations were to be funded in the priority order listed, after Eckstrom closed the books for the last fiscal year.
The top two items in the supplemental spending plan are $98 million for the state’s reserve fund — $60 million more than state law requires — and $300 million to deepen the Charleston Harbor.
The shortfall means about 20 items at the bottom of the list won’t be funded, including $4.4 million for a computer system at the Department of Revenue.
The Charleston area lost several projects:
— $200,000 for marketing the annual Southeastern Wildlife Exposition.
— $2 million for the College of Charleston to recruit and house start-up software companies.
— $393,000 toward launching an education program at the Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum, home to the World War II aircraft carrier Yorktown.
Executive Director Mac Burdette said Patriots Point hopes to open the first satellite program of the National Flight Academy in Pensacola, Fla., which provides interactive lessons in math, science and engineering for middle and high school students.
“We really want to be part of educating the children of South Carolina to meet the demands of the next generation,” Burdette said, noting that more than 20,000 students camped overnight on the Yorktown last year and that an additional 14,000 students toured it.
Opening the academy as planned next spring requires $600,000, but the agency has only $200,000, Burdette said.
“Of course we’re disappointed, but we will find the money some way,” he said.
The Department of Agriculture loses out on $600,000 to promote the state’s three regional farmers markets, $400,000 for signage and infrastructure at the State Farmers Market in West Columbia and $500,000 for marketing South Carolina-grown food.
Other dropped projects include $600,000 slated to Darlington County for building a five-mile canal, up to 9 feet deep, and a 12-acre retention pond.
A lack of drainage in the flat residential area means rainwater sticks around for a long time, saturating the ground, causing road and septic tank problems, and becoming a mosquito breeding ground, said county administrator Dale Surrett.
The loss could kill a project that’s been decades in the making, Surrett said. The money, secured in the budget by state Sen. Gerald Malloy, was needed to draw down about $2.5 million in federal stimulus money before a 2013 deadline. After years of budget cuts, the county can’t pay the match, he said.
“We’re very concerned about not being able to start on this,” Surrett said.
Gov. Nikki Haley vetoed $21 million worth of projects on the supplemental list, but the Legislature overrode the vast majority of those, leaving only $2.8 million of her vetoes in place.
A Haley spokesman said revenue shortfalls are never a good thing.
“But what it does show is why it is so important, as she argued from the beginning to the end of the budget process, for South Carolina to stop the foolish practice of spending every dollar every year,” Rob Godfrey said.