After senator held $125K from groups, McMaster tells agencies to send earmark money themselves

·2 min read
Tracy Glantz/tglantz@thestate.com

South Carolina earmark recipients will get their money directly from state agencies this year rather than from the lawmakers who requested the money.

The change is due to an executive order Gov. Henry McMaster issued Friday that directs how the state disburses the hundreds of millions of earmarked dollars included in this year’s $13.8 billion spending plan.

Money is expected to be delivered to recipients in September.

“South Carolinians deserve nothing less than an accountable, easy-to-follow state budget process where every dollar is easily tracked and accounted for,” McMaster said.

Lawmakers included about $418 million in member projects in the budget they passed last month. McMaster last week vetoed $52 million out of the budget, with only a portion restored by the Legislature.

Directly delivering checks to earmark recipients prevents the practice of lawmakers hand-delivering checks. It comes after state Sen. Karl Allen, D-Greenville, withheld $125,000 in from earmark recipients for months, the Post and Courier reported. Allen eventually delivered the checks to the charities.

He did not return a phone call seeking comment.

When lawmakers personally deliver checks, they get to enjoy a photo opportunity and publicly take credit for securing taxpayer money for a local project.

McMaster’s order also directed state agencies not to release earmark money until they receive information from earmark recipients, such as nonprofits or local governments, detailing how they plan to use the money and the goals of the projects. Information about the projects also have to be posted on the website of the agency disbursing the money.

State law also requires recipients to provide reports with how the money was spent and how it measured the success of the projects, which a 2020 audit found has not always been followed.

In previous years, not all agencies collected the information before issuing checks for projects and earmarks were rolled up into the budget with little transparency.

This year, before signing off on most of the budget, McMaster’s office asked lawmakers to provide information about requests for project money. Most lawmakers provided information, and those who didn’t had their projects vetoed.

“Without sufficient context, description, justification or information regarding the project and how the recipient intends to spend the funds, the public cannot evaluate the earmark’s merit,” McMaster wrote to lawmakers when he requested information about funding requests. “Moreover, no matter how deserving the project, the public must be confident that proper accountability measures are in place to ensure the funds are appropriately spent.”

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