Where in SC is he seeing government “grow”?

Glenn McConnell and other who say stuff like this completely mystify me:

“Today, I again introduced a joint resolution that would limit the growth of government.  My desire was to give the people of South Carolina the opportunity to decide at the ballot box if government should grow faster than their wallets.   I have introduced this bill every session since 2007, and hope that it will pass this year.  The need for this legislation has been made clear by the current crisis we are in.  I believe that we should have manageable growth that allows for providing core services of government.  We do not need a feast or famine approach to budgeting for our core government functions.  I also believe that what the government does not need should be returned to those who paid the bill in the first place.  Sadly, I have seen that government, when faced with a buffet of tax dollars, could not control its appetite.  Therefore, I felt compelled to introduce a legislative way to staple its stomach.”

That’s from an e-mail release I got today from Senate Republicans. Set aside the overuse of weary cliches. My point is this: Where, oh where in the state of South Carolina is Glenn McConnell seeing government “grow,” or indeed do anything other than retrench, shrivel, stumble and limp along? Where is the “problem” that his is allegedly addressing? I see it nowhere in this state, and haven’t in the 23 years I’ve been closely watching.

If this were anyone but McConnell, I would say it was just mindless GOP rhetoric. Since the Republicans have decided to nationalize all politics, since we’ve seen expansions of such programs as Medicare and Homeland Security under Bush, and other medical programs and the stimulus under Obama, a state senator of GOP persuasion might spout such nonsense reflexively.

But we know that McConnell is particularly a South Carolina creature, and he knows this state inside and out. He thinks SC thoughts, in SC symbols. There’s nothing generic about him.

So in his case, it really makes no rational sense at all.

Of course, he’s not alone. I hear Tom Davis has done the same. I like Tom, and he’s certainly right about some things, but he definitely loses me when he puts forward such Sanfordesque legislation as trying to create a formula limiting future spending to an arbitrary formula:

Tomorrow, I will pre-file a bill that caps general fund appropriations to a “population growth plus inflation” increase over the amount spent the prior year, with revenues above this cap returned to taxpayers, pro-rata in accordance with their payments. Time to draw the line.

The problems with such proposals should be obvious. To name four of my favorites:

  1. There is no solid reason to believe (except that it sounds like it might apply) that such a formula will bear any accurate relationship to the future requirements of government. There’s no way you can know that a formula based on population growth and inflation will be more relevant than one based on a function of the ERAs of left-handed pitchers in the American League.
  2. The Framers who handed down our system of republican government (of which our SC system is a sort of Bizarro World parody, but hey, it’s what we’ve got) intentionally placed such decisions as taxing and spending in the hands of regularly elected representatives who are delegated to decide how best to address the needs of the moment. They most assuredly did NOT set up a system that would make future Congresses’ (or in our system, Legislatures’) decisions for them, much less try to substitute present or future representatives’ deliberation with a mathematical formula. It’s hard to imagine any decision that lawmakers make that is more central to their responsibility as stewards, or more sensitive to the particular factors of the given year, than the annual budget.
  3. No one who believes in any sort of democracy, representative or otherwise, should support anything like this. Basically, a proposal like this arises from a desire to use a momentary political advantage to bind all future elected representatives to follow the proposer’s philosophy. The idea is, get a momentary majority, and then you don’t have to win elections in the future — even if your philosophy is completely rejected in future elections, you have prevented those elections from having consequences. And that is unconscionable if one believes at all in the American way of democratic republicanism.
  4. Finally, we return to the objection I raised initially above: This is South Carolina, gentlemen. At no time has there been any indication that there is a problem for which this proposal might be even an imperfect solution. “Time to draw the line?” Really? On what, Tom, on what?

29 thoughts on “Where in SC is he seeing government “grow”?

  1. Mark Stewart

    Schools for one are overfunded. We spend too darn much on our children. So also DSS needs to be restrained. Then there is DHEC. Oh, and DOT. Not to mention the overfunded Dept of Corrections (and DJJ). Maybe he believes DNR is gushing with excess funds? Maybe the parks people have been hording all the pork?

    No, what the legislators refuse to accept is that the problem here is not the expenses; it’s the revenues (in a macro economic sense) that are the problem. We don’t invest for the future. That’s education, infrastructure and economic development. Oh yeah, and progressive government.

    When McConnell issues a press release saying he understands our current governmental power structure is not appropriate for the 21st century and acts in a way that would be best for the state as a whole (and its future), then I will give him credit for leading. Otherwise these typical “pre-filing” announcements are just petty self-aggrandizing moves that signify nothing. That’s probably just the way the legislator’s want it.

  2. KP

    Well, and not only all that, if Tom Davis’s proposal were to pass, the starting point for the growth cap would be this year’s emaciated budget. The budget that’s causing us to furlough teachers and reduce the number of school days and make a mockery of most state services.

  3. Doug Ross

    Don’t let facts get in the way of your wailing and gnashing of teeth over all the brutal spending cuts you imagine. It’s amazing how you can even try and suggest that the government hasn’t grown over the years.


    Spending in billions:

    2008 2009 2010 2011 2012

    21.9 24.0 26.3 28.8 31.6

    I await your factual evidence that spending has decreased. It’s even worse on the local level. My property taxes increased several hundred dollars over last year due to school bonds. Bricks don’t educate.

  4. Doug Ross


    If we are furloughing teachers it’s because someone in the government has chosen to spend the money on other things.

    How many teachers jobs would have been saved by the 9.2 million spent on the Patriots Point battleship?

    How many jobs could we keep if we didn’t pay for the Hunley?

    How many teacher jobs could be saved by creating ONE school district in Richland County?

    It’s all about choices.

  5. j

    They seem to want to live by the same limits that political subdivisions have had to meet (that formula) for a number of years – a statute passed by the same Repubs. I doubt it.

  6. Wayne B.

    I’ll be glad to consider the esteemed Senator’s proposal when he shows a willingness to sell the CSA Hunley. We could probably get enough to fund a couple of CPS workers at DSS for a year or two.

  7. Kathryn Fenner

    Apropo population growth: I would think it matters if your population growth is DSS babies or wealthy Hilton Head/Sun City retirees….and I think wealthy retirees want their restaurant kitchens inspected and the bridges to their islands well-maintained or they go elsewhere…

    Do they hand out a refrigerator magnet kit at political meetings so they can just move around words and phrases until they get one that resonates with their base?

  8. Steve Gordy

    I can’t resist the urge to make smarta@@ comments when I see such nonsense get printed. Our gov-elect went to Washington yesterday and all we got was some lousy incantations from Speaker-to-be Boehner about “job-killing Obamacare.” Huh? Care to specify what jobs it’s killed in the last eight months, Mr. Speaker?

  9. burt

    But hasn’t the budget grown every year? So how is it being emaciated? I am not criticizing your assessment but just trying to get a straight answer. It seems that there are so many times where one person says one thing that appears to be factual and then someone else disputes it. Then the taxpayers are left wondering where the truth lies and why it is so hard to simply state the facts and address the problems. The result is voter apathy, I’m afraid, since both sides seem to be lying for one reason or another, but not governing.

  10. KP

    In Tom Davis’s own words, from his facebook page:

    “the total state budget last year was just over $21.1 billion, comprised of the following components: $5.1 billion from the general fund, $7.7 billion from “other funds” (revenues raised by state agencies via fines, fees, etc.) and $8.2 billion from the feds. To get spending under control you have to address each component.

    Appropriations from the general fund have declined from $7 billion to $5 billion in the past three years. Yes, further cuts can and will be made, but $5 billion is a pretty good baseline from which to start a cap.

    By contrast, the “other funds” portion of the state budget has grown annually by double-digit percentages and is completely out of control. State agencies are sucking money out of the private sector via fees, fines, etc., at an alarming rate. I am pre-filing another bill tomorrow that freezes these increases in place until we can start whacking away at them.

    The federal fund portion of the state budget has also skyrocketed, but I think there will be a substantial reduction in such revenues over the next several years as DC is forced to come to grips with its fiscal crisis. As those funds dry up, the state will be forced to cut programs and employees.

    In short, yes, further contractions in the state budget are necessary, but such will come primarily through reductions in the “other funds” and reacting to the decline in federal funds. The general fund component can be best tamed, in my judgment, through the proposed cap.”

    So: we leave the general fund at its currently contracted level and “whack away” at fines and fees, even though we know federal funding (which has been the only thing keeping thousands of teachers employed over the past two years) is about to be sharply reduced, resulting in the desired goal of forcing cuts in programs and employees. Maybe then government will be small enough to drown in the bathtub.

  11. Doug Ross


    I provided a link to the truth about government spending in South Carolina. It has grown consistently faster than population plus inflation over the years.

    And even in the midst of the biggest economic downturn since the Depression, we have people who think that any cuts in government spending are signs of greed. In fact, people like Brad wanted to increase government spending by increasing the sales tax by 11% (just a penny, just a penny, just a penny).

    Ron Paul had a great comment the other day – how is it that the government can create emergency spending bills to fund TARP, bank bailouts, and the war on terror but can’t ever create an emergency spending bill that CUTS spending during times of economic crisis? We never start cutting things like the Hunley, we just add more spending.

  12. Brad

    That’s right, Doug, just a penny.

    It astounds me the way anti-tax folks get so offended by that simple and accurate description of the proposed increase. This always happens when such a proposal is on the table — the more adamant anti-tax people go around saying “just a penny” with this bitter sarcasm that makes their faces look like their mouths are full of bile.

    You get the exact same expression and tone from the anti-public-school people (who are often — as with Mark Sanford, Howard Rich, et al. — the same people) when they mockingly, bitterly say “for the children.” They HATE that.

    I guess they hate it because it’s a powerful argument that their opponents have on their side. Yes, the increase would have been a mere penny on the dollar — an additional levy of only one percent of your spending, and only some of your spending at that.

    As for the other, yep, it’s for the children, but you won’t hear me saying that very often. Because while children are one constituency benefited by schools, they are ONLY one among many. We have public schools because society as a whole needs them. The opponents of public education can’t even wrap their heads around that (and to the extent that they do, it causes them to sneer again because they hate that word “society,” especially when it’s used to trump the whims of the almighty godlike individual), but they do get “for the children,” and they HATE it.

  13. Doug Ross


    Which taxes do you want to cut?

    You are on the record for increasing the sales tax, increasing the gas tax, increasing the cigarette tax.

    How many “just a penny” taxes would it take before you thought it was too much? We’re already at 9 pennies out of every dollar… every dollar that is earned after the 5 pennies the state income tax takes… and the 12 pennies the federal government takes… and the 7 pennies that social security take… and the 2 pennies for Medicare.. and all the other pennies for gas tax, property tax.

    You better believe I find the “just a penny” mantra one worthy of sarcasm and bile. It’s trite and phony at the same time.

  14. bud

    Sorry Brad, but that “just a penny” claim is pure crap and you know it. One of the things that irratates me the most about any sort of government proposal is dishonesty. Doug is right about what it was (an 11% increase in the sales tax). Heck, I even agreed with the tax (provided the hospitality tax was repealed along with it).

    Here’s another example. I remember George W. Bush standing in front of a giant Redwood touting his “clear skies” inititative. What it really was was a proposal to allow more clear cutting of forests.

    Or the afore-mentioned “hospitality tax”. What is hospitable about increasing the price of a restaraunt meal?

    Then we had operation “Iraqi Freedom”. What does murdering thousands of civilians have to do with freedom? Freedom from life I suppose. Damn thing should have been called operation “Iraqi Slaughter”.

    Let’s call things what they really are then have an open, honest debate on the merits. Crap like “the penny for buses” bill really does turn me off.

  15. Kathryn Fenner

    but Brad, if you go around adequately educating these children, they’ll come to expect it! Next thing, they’ll be looking to receive medical treatment, and food, and shelter. They should take the example of Sarah Palin’s mama bear, and go live in the wilderness and catch fish with their bare claws….

  16. Brad

    Actually, bud, if it were crap, and I knew it, I would say so. After more than five years on this blog, you should know that.

    The cognitive divide we have here — in which you think you KNOW something to be true, and I see something else entirely as being true — arises from the fact that for you and Doug, taxes are an emotional subject, while they stir no passions in me at all.

    Doug FEELS every penny he pays as though it were being carved out of his hide without anesthetic. You have a similarly visceral response. As for me, I tell the checkout people to keep that penny or two in change because I don’t want to have to carry it around. (Actually, I tend to take it, and give it back. That’s because the former little boy who collected coins in me says, “But wait! That could be a 1909 S VDB! I can’t just not take it!” Of course, once I get it and see that it’s not even a wheat penny — which is the case more than 99 percent of the time — I give it back. If I can see that clearly in the cashier’s hand, I don’t even take it.)

    I just don’t feel any emotional attachment to the money.

  17. Brad

    As for Kathryn’s comment…

    I realize you’re being funny, but the thing is that even you are couching it as a matter of what individuals GET — how they, personally, benefit. And this implies all the moral issues of whether the individual DESERVES these good things, etc.

    Whereas to me, that’s the wrong way to think about these things entirely. We have public schools, for instance, because our society needs them. Our economy requires a skilled workforce, and enabled consumers (in an Internet age, it’s tougher and tougher to engage in any sort of commerce without being literate, for instance). We need an informed citizenry with at least SOME vague notion of what our system is all about. We need to take young people, particularly teenagers, off the streets and channel their energies productively, if we hope to keep society from totally melting down in a massive Hobbesian crime wave. We need it to keep our communities from being the jungle, red in tooth and claw.

    To persuade me, you have to make similar arguments regarding those other issues as well.

    For instance, I believe in single-payer NOT because I believe individuals have a “right” to health care. I believe that the lack of affordable, accessible health care is enormously destructive to our economy, and not just because we need a healthy workforce to maintain productivity. We also need to unleash creativity by freeing people to take risks and start new businesses without worrying about whether their children will die for lack of medical care because they gave up the dead-end job with the benefits. We also need single-payer specifically because the very best way to minimize the cost of insuring us is for all 310 million of us to be paying into the same pool.

    It’s simply the rational way to do things, regardless of whether particular individuals are worthy of the benefits that accrue, or whether they are entitled. It’s not about this or that individual. It’s about all of us, living as we do in close quarters and in a state of profound interdependence (a state that has increased in intensity ever since the start of the industrial revolution).

  18. Doug Ross

    I’ve made my point on taxes very clear for years: I would not mind paying as much as I do in taxes if I felt the money was used wisely, efficiently, fairly, and without all the waste and fraud that goes with government.

    The government spends more every year with no incremental improvement in performance. Spending on education in this state is far higher than other states that do better. Why is that? Because the system is broken from the students who have no discipline to the parents who don’t care to the teachers who have to kill someone to lose their jobs to the principals who are more worried about lawsuits from disgruntled parents or micromanaging from boneheaded school boards and administrators. The problem is systemic, not financial one. Those of us who want to change the system for the betterment of the children are called greedy SOB’s.

    Letting the cashier keep the two cents is a choice not a government mandate. It doesn’t make you charitable or a better person. It just means you don’t care. We need people who care about how tax dollars are spent.

  19. KP

    @Doug: Where to start?

    1) Are you saying Tom Davis is wrong when he says that total government spending in South Carolina is $21.1 billion for this fiscal year? Because that’s less than any figure you cite above, from 2008 all the way through 2012 (which would naturally be a projection, not a reality). That looks to me like the factual evidence of a reduction that you said you were looking for.

    2) “Bricks don’t educate” is as patently ridiculous a statement as “just a penny.” What happens when the number of students outgrows a school’s capacity, as regularly happens in high-growth districts? Do you put up bricks, or drop your kid off on the grass with a teacher and call it school?

    And what should happen when your child goes to school in the same crappy, crumbling facility you went to yourself 40 years ago (even including the same lunch trays) — long after it was built under the forgiving standards of “separate but equal” laws?

    I think your perception is warped by your circumstances, in education just as it is in health care. You have a handsomely funded education system, with every benefit a student could want: you can afford to carp about spending. You have excellent, employer-funded health care, so you have no clue and less sympathy for what the rest of us are dealing with.

  20. Kathryn Fenner (D- SC)

    Brad– I was not saying that individual kids (who are neither voters nor taxpayers–except sales tax on snacks, maybe) deserve these things. I’m saying it’s appalling that the greatest nation on earth begrudges them these things.

  21. Tony


    This legislation is TABOR (Taxpayer Bill of Rights) or TEL (Tax Expenditure Limitation) amendment without calling it by these names. Currently Colorado passed it and it has been causing them issues, especially during this economic downturn. A number of states have stopped it in the past (e.g.: Ohio, Maine, Montana, etc)

    To my understanding, when there is a budget cut due to a downturn, TABOR prevents restoring the budget to previous levels. Instead it is fixed at the previous year’s budget and inflationary levels. When this occurs, it slowly cuts needed services that were provided and then not restored due to the new constitutional budget provisions.

    Ultimately, it’s a way of destroying government via a “constructional mandate” of the voters who are typically ignorant of the ramifications. More demands will be placed on local governments as the size of the state government diminishes.

    I personally noticed many Catholic Bishops protested this legislation over the past several years.

    If TABOR or TEL is established in South Carolina, I would be alarmed.

  22. KP

    “Spending on education in this state is far higher than other states that do better.”

    Could be you’re right. Name the state. Give us the demographics (percentage of low income and minority children). Give us the Kids Count estimates of child poverty and teen pregnancy. List the amount they spend per pupil — in actual, audited, day-to-day operating expenditures, not SCRG fabrications. Then give their NAEP scores, and we can see.

  23. KP

    Also, sorry to hog the blog, but I feel the need to share these comments supporting Tom Davis’s plan to strangle state government, from some of the people who support him:

    “How about we just eliminate public schools and let them all compete for the kids? why not let competition work .. people do know free education is a pillar of communism. …Education is not a right, time for parents to act like parents. Look it up yourself if you don’t believe me. If a person is for free public schooling (which is theft from people like me to take my $ to give to others that don’t care .. oh & i will never get a thank you for it) then they are 10% commie haha. Check out the pillars yourself. We have 9 of the 10 pillars est now & all but one of the 1928 socialist party planks”

    “If you really want to rock the boat, propose legislation that states that no federal agents may operate within the boundaries of our sovereign state and that our elected law enforcement officers should interpose and arrest any federal agent who tries to commit theft, abduction, etc. Stop the hemorrhaging here at home first..
    We should be asserting our sovereignty by refusing to allow the feds to tax our citizens. Our sheriffs should be interposing between the feds and the citizens and refusing to allow the feds to steal our property and incarcerate people for non payment of federal taxes. No citizen should EVER pay taxes directly to the feds. ALL taxes paid to the feds should be coming from the state governments so that we can keep the feds in check.

    Tom, why build in provisions to grow the budget year-over-year at all? Government (at the state and federal level) is a cancerous tumor on our citizenry that needs to be reduced in size, not put on an autopilot growth plan. I understand that if population does not increase, the budget would not increase, but that is not enough. We need to CUT spending year-over-year… period.

  24. Mark Stewart

    AIts not an 11% tax increase – because the transit “system” is currently paid for by other taxation. Both the 11% viewpoint and the just a penny jingle are disingenuous.

    People can carp all they want about the incremental increase. Taxes are the sum total. But spare me the dithering about this or that revenue source, unless we are talking about disproportional burdens.

    However, the opposite is also true: How and where we invest in governmental services does matter.

  25. Doug Ross


    “the voters who are typically ignorant of the ramifications.”

    The same voters are just as ignorant when it comes to voting the politicians into office. So what’s the difference? You either have bad legislators or bad legislation. Best solution? Limit the damage they can do by reducing the money they can waste.

  26. Doug Ross


    You answered your own questions. They may spend less in other states and do better because they have demographics and a culture that value education. Utah is a perfect example. The Mormons place a much higher emphasis on education, work ethic, and parental involvement. They spend less per pupil and do better.

    Spending more on public education won’t fix demographics nor culture. We have enough evidence here in South Carolina to prove that. Allendale is the best case. More money spent there than anywhere else for many years. Result: no measurable difference.

  27. Kathryn Fenner (D- SC)

    @ Doug –“Waste” is in the eye of the beholder. Witness the many people outraged that the DNR is no longer maintaining the numbers on the buoys in Lake Murray. Now,to me, teachers are more important than buoys for recreational boaters. On the other hand, I love to walk in the woods, and I am distressed to learn that there are very few DNR officers around to ensure that I am not shot by a delinquent hunter, or to ensure that an over-hunter/over-fisher does not permanently ruin the ecology…..

  28. Doug Ross


    There is a difference between waste and priorities.

    Waste is money spent on inefficient, duplicate processes. Waste is money paid to people who don’t do anything productive. Waste is funding pet projects of well-connected legislators for things the government has no business doing.

    Waste is the Jim Clyburn bridge over I277. In what must be well over 1000 trips driving under that bridge, I can count on one hand the number of people I have seen using it. And count on two hands the number of people who just walk across the road 50 yards away. Imagine if the money spent on that bridge was used to provide scholarships to Midlands Tech for the people who live on either side.

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