Thursday, May 8, 2014

The story behind the LGF debate

Wednesday’s senate debate on the Local Government Fund brought together unusual partners and a variety of perspectives.  

Senator Larry Martin  (R-Pickens) introduced an amendment to the state budget late Tuesday afternoon that would have guaranteed $16 million more in the Local Government Fund than the budget recommended by the Senate Finance committee. This would have increased the LGF base funding for FY 15 from $187.6 million to $203.6 million.

Senator Martin spent well over two hours on the senate floor leading the debate that revolved around the argument of budget priorities (LGF vs. 4k expansion) and brought together a coalition of senators who may not always agree on local government issues.

Senator Martin said he introduced this amendment because the General Assembly has a responsibility to meet its obligation to the state’s cities and towns. Much of the conversation on the senate floor focused on why local governments should be funded at the level promised in state law before expanding a commitment to 4K funding.

Senator Martin and his supporters argued that cities must know the state’s commitment to funding the LGF at the time they are setting their own budgets in order to budget responsibly. Appropriating part of the Local Government Fund as “supplemental” funding as recommended in the Senate Finance committee budget means cities and towns wouldn’t know until September 2014 (well into their fiscal year) whether 7.5 percent of their LGF dollars would be available.

In the State House lobby, many of the senators who ultimately voted against Senator Martin’s amendment indicated they were reluctant to vote in favor for two primary reasons. 

First, the senators said they were very confident that the proposed surplus funds would materialize. Second, many voiced concerns that a vote in favor of Senator Martin’s proposed amendment could be perceived as a vote against education in what has been labeled by some as an education budget.

While the amendment was tabled 29-13, the debate did bring to light many of the budget issues that local officials wrestle with daily. Plus calls from local officials sent a clear message that LGF dollars are critical to cities’ ability to provide services. 

Thanks to the following senators who voted against tabling the amendment: Senators Bennett, Bright, Bryant, Campsen, Corbin, Fair, Hembree, Larry Martin, Shane Martin, Massey, Shealy, Thurmond and Turner.

Senator Martin deserves huge credit for his willingness to bring this issue of local funding to the senate floor. Plus kudos to Senators Tom Corbin and Shane Martin for their vocal support of the state meeting its obligations during the debate. It’s a discussion that needs to continue.

Final passage of the Senate version of the budget is expected today, so watch tomorrow’s From the Dome to Your Home for details. The budget next returns to the House where members will decide to concur or non-concur with the Senate version.

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