Like everything else, COVID-19 casts a long shadow over state government.
S.C. Board of Economic Advisors
On August 24 all eyes will be on the S.C. Board of Economic Advisors which will report on COVID-19’s impact on the economic well-being of the state and offer the revenue forecasts that the General Assembly will use in building the budget for fiscal years 2021 and 2022.
The State Budget and… the State Budget
This is where it gets a bit confusing. Typically, the budget is approved by the beginning of the fiscal year, which begins July 1. Because of COVID-19 the General Assembly has not yet finalized a state budget for this current year (FY 2021), which they’ll do in September. The legislators will then come back in January to start the process all over again for FY 2022. The numbers look okay for FY 2021, although that $1.9 billion in extra funds reported at the start of the session in January has all but disappeared – considering the massive deficits other states currently face, South Carolina is in a relatively strong position. The concern is for FY 2022 which won’t have that big of a financial cushion.
As mentioned, the General Assembly is scheduled to reconvene in September to address the state budget and appropriate the remaining $600 million at the state’s disposal from the CARES Act, which must be spent by December 31.
Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund (GEER)
Speaking of the CARES Act, any spending of the $48.5 million in the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund is on hold until the resolution of the court case to decide the legality of the governor’s SAFE Grants for low-income students attending private K-12 schools. The governor had announced he would spend $32 million on the program, but the lawsuit claims the South Carolina Constitution prohibits public funds from being given to religious or other private educational institutions.
The case is perplexing because the S.C. Constitution clearly permits the funding of aid to students attending private institutions.