S.C. House bills would call for earmark reforms

COLUMBIA -- Some lawmakers in the S.C. House are looking to end anonymous state spending by forcing lawmakers to sign their names to budget items they request.

The proposal is the S.C. version of earmark reform that has been debated by the U.S. Congress. While the state budget does not have true earmarks, requests for state money such as capital projects, programs or other spending frequently branded as "pork" often are tucked into the budget with no public information about how or why they were put there.

Lawmakers know who is pushing a budget item, and the public should, too, said state Rep. Nathan Ballentine, R-Richland.

Ballentine and state Rep. Michael Thompson, R-Anderson, said they have drafted bills to require that sponsors of requested state spending be listed in the budget. They also want an explanation for the spending to be required.

In addition, House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, said the House likely will amend its rules to require a similar change. To include a budget item with no sponsor, Harrell said, the House's rules likely would require a two-thirds vote of the House, a high hurdle for legislation.

Unlike a bill, a House rule change would not need approval from the state Senate and would not formally bind the Senate. However, the rules change effectively could force the Senate to provide the House budget details or risk the House rejecting an item.

The amount of state spending has been a major disagreement between the Legislature and Gov. Mark Sanford, with Sanford saying the state which had budget surpluses of more than $1 billion the past two years has spent too much. However, an economic slowdown means there will be little new money this year. The state is expecting about $229 million in new money this year.