Column: D.C. could benefit by following S.C.’s fiscal leadership
The ongoing government shutdown shows how the mismanagement of our nation’s budget has left the American people with an inefficient, ineffective and irresponsible federal government.
This shutdown-showdown is bigger than any single issue or political party; it’s a fiscal-failure caused by problems long-overdue for reform.
Thankfully, this is one of the many areas where our state differs greatly from Washington, D.C. In fact, Washington could learn a great deal about fiscal responsibility from South Carolina. First of all, Washington needs to start passing annual budgets – and yes, that means every year. This past March, the U.S. Senate passed its first budget in four years.
Next, Washington’s most obvious fiscal problem – lack of a balanced budget. Families must weigh expenses against their income and prioritize things like food, shelter and utilities ahead of more discretionary spending. Likewise, a government cannot sustain services by living beyond its means. Washington prefers “deficit spending” – spending money it doesn’t have on things our nation doesn’t need – while South Carolina’s Constitution mandates a balanced budget. This requires our state to prioritize funding for education, healthcare, law enforcement and infrastructure before tackling other issues.
The result is our state has a smaller, more efficient government focused on core services that accomplishes more with less. By limiting government growth and eliminating waste, South Carolina is able to meet the needs of a growing population with 10,000 fewer state government positions than we had in 1994. In South Carolina, we keep taxes low and hold government growth in check. A recent review by The Tax Foundation found that South Carolina has the lowest tax collections in the nation and is the third best state for restraining government growth. Responsible budgeting begins by not spending every penny you take in. Over the past four years, South Carolina has had an average annual surplus of more than $157 million – allowing our state to sustain core services while maintaining $28.7 billion in Republican-passed tax cuts.
Washington can’t even afford to fund its past commitments, let alone its new promises. The rapid expansion of unfunded federal programs has created a spending addiction that forces federal lawmakers to continually seek new tax hikes.
During the Great Recession of 2008, when nearly every family and business had to cut back, Congress and the President spent more – not less – of your tax dollars. Instead of cutting the already-bloated federal budget, they stretched debt limits to pass a $831 billion “stimulus” plan.
Our legislature, however, made the difficult spending decisions Washington would not. When one-quarter of South Carolina’s revenue stream evaporated over one 18 month period, we reduced spending midyear by nearly $1 billion in 2009 and $439 million more in 2010.
As a result, South Carolina retained its AAA credit rating while the United States government was downgraded to AA+ in 2011. A responsible budget holds funds in reserve for a “rainy day.”
Obviously, overspending to the point where you’re forced to borrow money just to cover day-to-day expenses isn’t wise – but it’s exactly how Washington operates. Because of this, every American child begins life indebted $52,864.90 – their individual share of our $16.8 trillion national debt.
By contrast, South Carolina funds not one, but two rainy day accounts. In fact, after 2009’s midyear cuts depleted these accounts, we increased our total reserves to better insulate our budget from future shortfalls. With nearly $400 million set aside this year, South Carolina now boasts the 10th best rainy day fund balance in the nation.
There are many more differences, but the reality is already undeniable – South Carolina has its fiscal house in order; Washington has a fiscal house of cards. Washington can fix this by balancing our nation’s budget, limiting government growth and setting up true reserve accounts.
If our federal government started living within its means – as South Carolina families, businesses and state government do – there might not be a need to shutdown the government.
Bruce Bannister is the S.C. House of Representatives majority leader, Bobby Harrell is the speaker of the S.C. House of Representatives and Brian White is the S.C. House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee chairman.