Scott Carlberg

“South Carolina lawmakers will again have a significant amount of extra money to spend in next year’s budget. … a nearly $2 billion increase in the general fund, which lawmakers control, for the budget year that starts in July 2020.” (Source)

Snap out of it! That was last November.

Now the state barely eked out a positive number for the year. About $220 million. Square that against the $6 billion of debt owed by the customers of state-owned Santee Cooper.

The contrast and contradiction in numbers boggle the mind.

The pandemic and its economic fallout crashed the party. It’s not over, either. Next year there may be $1.2 billion less to spend in South Carolina’s government. (Source)

We are not at the end of the pandemic, just the end of the beginning of the pandemic, to paraphrase and old saying. Hunker down.

Here’s another irony. The State Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office Executive Director noted the “positive” angle of the $3 trillion in federal stimulus nationally and there is more on the horizon. Certainly true.

Personalize the numbers. Families are in tough shape. An April report (left) says 52 percent of lower-income adults say they or someone in their household has experienced job upheaval. “Only about one-in-four say they have rainy day funds set aside that would cover their expenses for three months in case of an emergency … 53 percent of lower-income adults say they will have trouble paying some of their bills this month.”

“Sixty-two percent of those with credit card debt said they won’t be able to make minimum payments in the next three months if the pandemic continues,” says one poll. Get this – “The average U.S. household has around $5,700 in credit card debt.” That from CNBC. That household debt is less than the $6,000+ debt cited in the past that Santee Cooper imposed on customers.

So, rely on Washington? Run through money like Washington? For a state with a pride in making its own way that must feel strange. It shows that measures must be taken at the state and local levels to manage finances.

Will those measures be taken? Even as the debt burdens of Santee Cooper and the State of South Carolina continue, reality takes a back seat to pride of ownership of the utility. Thousands of dollars in utility debt per household are business-as-usual, the pandemic tanks the economy, but by gosh, the state owns the utility.

Staring into the multi-disasters of Santee Cooper finances and a prolonged health and economic drop would force logic to prevail to many people. But not all.

What will it take to reconcile an apparent pride in dysfunction? Would it be better to stand up for customers and their financial health?