In just one year, the surplus from state gas-tax-hike revenues grew by more than a quarter of a billion dollars, or 50%, to $752 million as of Jan. 31, records show.

The Nerve repeatedly has pointed out the growing reserve that the S.C. Department of Transportation has been sitting on since the gas-tax-hike law took effect on July 1, 2017. Now, the agency contends that the surplus is committed to “pending vendor payments.”

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The S.C. Legislature these days is proving that the cover-up is as bad as the crime.

Not only have legislators routinely ignored a longstanding state law requiring public hearings on the entire state budget as initially proposed by the governor, they now are moving to get rid of the law itself – without debate.

A House Ways and Means subcommittee this week quickly approved, without discussion, a bill that would repeal a law requiring the House and Senate budget-writing committees (House Ways and Means, Senate Finance committees) to hold joint public hearings on the governor’s proposed state spending plan.

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It’s a railroad that most South Carolinians probably never have heard of.

The Charleston-based “Palmetto Railways” is classified as a “short line railroad,” which typically runs shorter distances and connects shippers to larger freight railroads.

Officially, Palmetto Railways, which was established in 1969, is a division of the S.C. Department of Commerce, though it has a separate website; and recent state budgets mention it only once in an obscure proviso under Commerce’s section.

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Longtime state attorney general Alan Wilson could receive bigger retirement paychecks under legislation sponsored by two House leaders who also are lawyers.

The bill, sponsored by Reps. Murrell Smith, R-Sumter, who is the House Ways and Means Committee chairman, and Chris Murphy, R-Dorchester, who is the House Judiciary Committee chairman, would allow Wilson to move from the retirement system covering general state employees to the retirement system covering judges and solicitors, effective July 1.

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An income tax credit that S.C. lawmakers created in 2017 to offset the state gasoline tax hike has been relatively unpopular so far, records show.

And state revenue forecasters are now admitting it.

After two years of wrongly predicting that taxpayers would claim the maximum-allowed amount of income tax credits, the state Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office (RFA) is predicting that taxpayers this year collectively will claim nearly $60 million less than the cap set by law, according to a letter from RFA director Frank Rainwater to Hartley Powell, director of the S.C. Department of Revenue (DOR).

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Since Gov. Henry McMaster in August gave the state Department of Commerce – which isn’t a public health agency – the authority to allow large-crowd events in South Carolina amid the coronavirus outbreak, the agency has approved more than 1,300 applications, records show.

Through Thursday morning, Commerce approved 1,345, or 90%, of the total 1,489 submitted applications, The Nerve found in a review of the department’s online applications database. Seventeen approved applications involved estimated crowds, either on a single day or collectively over a longer time period, of at least 10,000.

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As Americans saw, the 2020 presidential election was beset with fraud and irregularities. Although it is too late to rectify the 2020 election, voter fraud remains a clear and existential threat to the Republic’s electoral system. Fortunately, there is much that state legislatures can do.

Both Article I, Section 4, and Article II, Section 1, of the United States Constitution give state legislatures primary authority over setting the rules for federal elections. The first step toward restoring confidence in American elections is for legislators to reclaim their constitutional power from judges and executive branch bureaucrats.

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For the second time in recent months, the S.C. Judicial Department has sided with secrecy about how the court system operates.

In October, the department denied The Nerve’s request under the state Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for a list of judicial staff making at least $50,000 annually – records which are considered public for any government agency under the FOIA.

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2020 ended with a first in the 3½ years of the gas-tax-hike law, though many South Carolina motorists probably won’t be happy about it.

As of Dec. 31, more revenues were collected under the law, which took effect July 1, 2017, than the total estimated cost of all road and bridge projects identified by the S.C. Department of Transportation to be paid with the money, recently released agency records show.

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Over the last three months of 2020, the November general election wasn’t the only expense that top S.C. lawmakers covered with campaign funds.

The Nerve’s review of the latest campaign-spending reports filed this month by Senate and House leaders found that a number of them spent some of their campaign funds on sponsorships and other donations to their favorite charities, membership dues to various organizations, and gifts to their staffs or constituents.

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A state House proposal would send an additional $63 million out of state surplus funds to the Department of Health and Environmental Control to speed up COVID-19 vaccinations and continue testing statewide.

But DHEC has spent only about 60% of the $45 million in state surplus funds awarded to the agency last March to combat the coronavirus, and less than a third of the collective $261 million in federal funding received since the outbreak hit South Carolina, The Nerve found in a review of the agency’s latest spending report.

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In touting Gov. Henry McMaster’s proposed fiscal 2022 state budget, his office in a recent news release contended it “significantly invests in the state’s core functions of government” while “maintaining his commitment” to “fiscally responsible practices.”

But although emergency spending in response to the coronavirus outbreak in South Carolina likely will continue in the fiscal year that starts July 1, McMaster’s proposed nearly $30.8 billion state budget also contains a number of pricey, questionable items, a review by The Nerve found,  including, for example:

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The powerful S.C. House speaker, who controls half of the appointments on a committee that nominates judges for election in the Legislature, wants to expand the size of the state’s highest court and eliminate the cap on judicial nominees.

Rep. Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, is the main sponsor of a joint resolution calling for an amendment to the state constitution that would increase the total number of justices on the S.C. Supreme Court from five to seven, and a related bill that would keep the General Assembly in control of electing those judges for 10-year terms.

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In announcing recently that 686 nonprofit organizations in South Carolina would receive a total of $25 million in federal coronavirus-relief grants, state officials said the recipients received a “successful due diligence review” by a legislatively created panel.

A state Department of Administration (SCDOA) spokeswoman told The Nerve last week in a written response that priority was given to organizations that provided services in one or more of the following categories:

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As lawmakers return to Columbia this week to consider big issues such as the ongoing response to the coronavirus outbreak in South Carolina and the possible sale of state-owned utility Santee Cooper, some legislators are introducing bills that ultimately could fatten their own wallets.

And state law allows it.

Take Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, for example.

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If one of your New Year’s resolutions is to drive over pothole-free roads in South Carolina, you probably should choose a different goal.

The Nerve’s review of recently released state Department of Transportation records found that since the gas-tax-hike law took effect July 1, 2017, through Nov. 30 of last year, the total dollar amount of completed “pavements” projects statewide remained less than half of the estimated cost of all such projects.

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