S.C. House memebers adopt ban on adding sponsorless earmarks to budget

COLUMBIA -- Call it pork-barrel spending. Call it earmarks. Call it taking care of the folks back home.

The days of slipping in anonymous spending increases might be gone for South Carolina's state representatives.

A ban on the longtime practice of quietly adding state aid for pet projects without identifying the sponsor was adopted Wednesday by the S.C. House.

It's a rule change that goes into effect immediately not only for the 124 members of the S.C. House, but also for spending plans that come from the Senate.

House leaders -- both majority Republicans and minority Democrats -- pushed the change to limit what they call pork-barrel spending for which no one takes responsibility.

"This puts a spotlight on everything," Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, said. "If lawmakers are not willing to put their name by an item they are requesting, it is probably something that should not be done in the first place."

The move is long overdue, said John Crangle, executive director of the state chapter of Common Cause, a public watchdog.

"If they can pull it off," he said, "it's an excellent idea."

Left unsaid: The change also gives House leaders more power to control the flow of state aid as a way to reward and punish other lawmakers.

The change should relieve pressure on members of the budget-writing Ways and Means Committee to make quiet deals in exchange for other favors.

"I'm OK with it," Ways and Means Committee chairman Dan Cooper, R-Anderson, said of the ban. "I get the blame for everything, anyway."

Senate leaders aren't considering a similar ban.

Sponsors of add-ons in the Senate are not always named if that happens as part of committee decisions.

"Many revisions develop out of discussions, so it is difficult to say it's any one member," said Senate Finance Committee chairman Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence.

One major test of the change in the House is likely to come in what's usually a hectic annual rush to settle on a state budget for the year starting July 1.

Millions of dollars worth of projects routinely are slipped in as House and Senate committees put together their proposed spending plans each year.

A second round of bargaining occurs when House and Senate leaders hammer out differences in their budget drafts.

Keeping up with the authors of each proposal then would be difficult, Leatherman said.

"There's a lot of give-and-take," he said. "I don't know how you pin it down to any one person."

The restriction adopted by the House allows anonymous add-ons to be accepted if two-thirds of the House approves. That means 83 representatives must agree.

But that's likely to happen rarely, if at all, Harrell said.

"The threat of not being able to get that margin will stop inappropriate earmarks," he said.