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Crisis pregnancy centers - Laurens County is getting one of this to be built in the Professional Park, in a land purchase approved by Laurens County Council - sought more money after abortion ban led to tripling of women seeking help


Churches, charities with little track record among nonprofits in line for $90M in SC budget

COLUMBIA — A church-owned retreat in rural Fairfield County, anti-abortion organizations and a pair of after-school boxing programs are among nonprofits receiving taxpayer dollars in the state budget.

In total, the Legislature’s budget plan for the fiscal year that started July 1 allocates more than $435 million in one-time spending on projects sponsored by legislators, known as earmarks.

About $90 million of that is slated for nonprofit organizations, according to an analysis by the SC Daily Gazette.

They include charities that provide services for people with autism or sickle cell disease, YMCAs, United Way chapters, and veteran support groups.

Recipients also include churches, fledgling charities with few-to-no financial records, and organizations with legislative ties.

Repeat recipients

While earmarks are one-time designations, they’re becoming annual allocations for some nonprofits.

Track Heroes of North Charleston is receiving $100,000 for the second consecutive year for its “high speed mental health” program for veterans and first responders with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Also for the second year in a row, House of Champions — a boxing club that encourages youth to stay in school and away from crime — is set to get state money for facility upgrades: $250,000 this year, following $130,000 last year.

It’s the fourth consecutive year of funding for the Antioch Baptist Senior Center in Columbia, which is slated to receive $250,000, after receiving $500,000 last year, and $300,000 each in 2022 and 2021.

Also back on the list is the Emma Wright Fuller Foundation.

A $50,000 allocation for its afterschool program at Fuller Normal, a historically Black private elementary school, made headlines in 2022 when its sponsor, Sen. Karl Allen, sat on the check for months. The Greenville Democrat never explained why he withheld funding from the foundation and other charities.

But the news reports caused Gov. Henry McMaster to order his Cabinet agencies in July 2022 to start sending all grants directly to the recipient, ending the practice of agencies giving checks to legislators to dole out for credit and grip-and-grin photos.

This year, Allen again sought money for the Fuller Foundation. It’s set to receive $250,000 to expand its afterschool program and other services. That’s the same amount provided in the 2022-23 budget, which took effect not long after the group finally got its 2021 allocation.

Other designations have skipped a year.

The Center for Educational Equity in Greenville, an after-school program that combines boxing and academics, is set to get $50,000. It doesn’t appear in last year’s budget. But in 2022, it received $600,000. In 2021, it got $25,000.

Increased transparency

Most legislators don’t call the allocations earmarks, referring to them instead as “community investments” that are particularly essential to providing services in poor and rural communities. But critics say the process provides largely unchecked spending of taxpayer dollars.

“I think there are some nonprofits that do tremendous work in the state,” said Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey.

But the Edgefield Republican does not think the state should be directly funding these groups in the budget.

For starters, he questions how or even whether legislators determine which are the most effective and financially stable.

The process involves legislators making requests and the chambers’ budget writers deciding how to split up available cash, generally relying on each representative and senator to know best what their communities need.

“I think we do a poor job evaluating these groups,” Massey said. “There are a whole host of other problems associated with nonprofits that you don’t get with government agencies.”

It’s common for state agencies to contract with nonprofits to fill gaps in service. But those contracts come with oversight, Massey said.

When it comes to earmarks, he said, there should more of a review on the back end to determine whether the charitable organizations spent the money in the way they promised.

“I think we owe it to the taxpayers,” Massey said.

He’s among legislators, along with McMaster, who pushed to make the legislator-sponsored spending more transparent. Until several years ago, earmarks were hidden in vaguely worded chunks of spending that gave no clue where the money went. The transparency has gotten incrementally better, with legislators starting to list each separately in 2021.

Last year marked the first time that legislators provided the governor’s office paperwork on their requests ahead of sending him their budget package. He rewarded them by vetoing so little, they didn’t bother to come back to Columbia to override him. This year, legislators again provided documentation (for some items very meager) in advance, which the governor’s office has shared with the Gazette.

Massey said he would like to see things taken a step further, with an annual review on how the money was spent.

But state Rep. Russell Ott, D-St. Matthews, said the recent reforms, which identify each earmark and allow for public scrutiny, will prevent misuse. And since the money is funneled through state agencies, those agencies should provide the oversight to ensure the money is spent as planned.

“We are light-years ahead of where we were even five years ago,” said Ott, who won a Democratic primary last month for a Senate seat. He’s among legislators who call the investments essential to filling service gaps across the state.

If specific nonprofits are found to misuse state money, they should be cracked down on, he said, but to eliminate all nonprofit funding would be “throwing the baby out with the bath water.”

Religious nonprofits

Some earmarks provide funding to faith-based groups, while others go directly to churches.

For example, one item sponsored by Sen. Brian Adams, R-Goose Creek, provides $100,000 to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston for its “alternatives to abortion” program, according to documentation provided by the governor’s office. The diocese, which covers the entire state of South Carolina, received the same amount for the program last year.

Legislators also set aside $3 million for the state Association of Pregnancy Care Centers, which describes its mission as “saving lives through our clinical services and saving souls with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” The association, which received $2.4 million last year, will distribute the money to 26 crisis pregnancy centers across the state.

According to its request, the nonprofit needed more money because the number of pregnant women seeking assistance at their centers tripled — to more than 4,200 women — between 2022 and 2023, when legislators passed a law banning abortions after the sixth week of pregnancy. The budget separately provides $100,000 to a pregnancy center on Hilton Head Island, double what it received last year.

Earmarks to the organizations, which aid those facing unexpected pregnancies and steer them away from abortions, are in addition to the $2.4 million the state budget provides them through medical contracts with the state’s Medicaid agency. The contract provided the same amount last fiscal year.

Then there’s $100,000 for the St. John Holistic Wellness Center in rural Hopkins. The center is run by the Baptist church where Rep. Jermaine Johnson, D-Columbia, is a member, according to his House biography. It’s received $100,000 each in at least three of the last four years.

Johnson said the center, which hosts community meetings and events, has gotten state money since long before he was first elected in 2020. He only repeated the requests of his predecessors, he told the Gazette. That’s certainly possible — just impossible to verify in state spending spreadsheets prior to 2021.

A $250,000 designation sponsored by Sen. Allen goes to a community center operated by Reedy Fork Baptist Church, which his late mother attended, according to a resolution honoring her. That brings to $550,000 the total allocated to the center over three years.

Among the larger items is $2 million going to the Seventh District of the African Methodist Episcopal to renovate a vacant convention and retreat center near Winnsboro purchased by the church in 2022. The church also received $2 million in last year’s budget.

The church did not respond to emailed questions from the SC Daily Gazette, but documents provided to the governor’s office say the conference center would serve as an emergency shelter during extreme weather.

The earmark’s lead sponsor, Rep. Annie McDaniel, said the money is not about supporting a church but rather the potential tourism and convention business the center could bring to Fairfield County. The rural county northwest of Columbia has struggled since the failed expansion of the V.C. Summer nuclear plant.

“We’ve just been losing so much. I don’t want to see that nice large facility sit empty,” said the Fairfield County Democrat. “I hope people understand it’s a good use of state money because it’s adding to the economy of the state.”

New nonprofits

Some nonprofits getting money through the budget are organizations that have existed for only a few years with little-to-no documentation filed with the S.C. Secretary of State, leaving it difficult if not impossible to assess their fiscal health.

Those include Maroon Innovation Services, founded by Dianne Cheeseboro in 2022. While working as an interventionist in domestic battery cases, she was meeting many adults who could not read adequately. So, she started the mobile reading program in Orangeburg and Calhoun counties.

In last year’s budget, she received $100,000 to outfit a recreational vehicle as a mobile office and classroom. She and several certified teachers she employs take the vehicle to libraries across the two counties.

Since receiving that first round of state money last November, Cheeseboro has enrolled 13 students and adults in her reading program. She said the $175,000 included in this year’s budget will enable her to expand virtually to help more people.

Cheeseboro said she has applied and continues to apply for private grant funding but so far has had no luck. She hopes the state funding will help her become more established so she might succeed in winning more grants in the future.

Then there’s a Florence-based program called Heart of Life, in line for $200,000 through the state Department of Employment and Workforce. The organization’s Facebook page said it offers college and workforce counseling to students in the Pee Dee. It’s director, Diamond Boatwright, is also listed as a staff member for the Pee Dee office of the state’s unemployment agency.

Boatwright was not available to answer questions about her organization, which netted just $900 in donations last year, according to filings with the S.C. Secretary of State. The state money would provide a giant funding boost.

Rep. Terry Alexander, D-Florence, who sponsored the earmark, did not respond to voicemail and text messages from the Gazette.

On the other hand, Jeffrey Lampkin, a gospel singer and former American Idol participant, has been running arts camps in Clarendon County for more than a decade. Still, the non-profit foundation he formed with his wife is just a few years old and has no financial filings with the state.

According to Lampkin, who also owns a restaurant and conducts public relations for Richland County Coroner Naida Rutherford, he has put on the free camps for more than 300 kids each summer using private donations and by tapping his family’s own finances. In recent years, he has started providing families in need with fresh produce, hot meals and has held nutrition classes.

Now Lampkin hopes to expand to nearby Sumter and Lee counties and sought state dollars to help cover the cost.

Lampkin said he partners with local churches, school groups and other organizations but did not answer questions about how much he’s been able to fundraise in the past or how that compares to the $300,000 in taxpayer funding he is expected to receive.

The sponsor of that money, Sen. Kevin Johnson, D-Manning, did not respond to calls from the SC Daily Gazette.

Now it’s up to McMaster to decide what spending to allow in the $14.5 billion state spending package. The governor has scheduled a news conference Wednesday to announce his line-item budget vetoes.

Since the fiscal year started Monday, the budget will take effect with his veto message.

The following are examples of more nonprofits receiving repetitive funding over multiple years through legislator-sponsored earmarks since 2021, when the state budget began listing them:

Source: S.C. budgets, 2021-22 through 2024-25


Jessica Holdman writes about the economy, workforce and higher education. Before joining the SC Daily Gazette, she was a business reporter for The Post and Courier.

SC Daily Gazette is part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.


Governor Henry McMaster Announces Line Item Vetoes for FY 2024-2025 State Budget

COLUMBIA, S.C. – Governor Henry McMaster today announced line item vetoes for the FY 2024-2025 state budget at a Statehouse news conference. The budget includes a historic 292 proposals from the governor's executive budget – an increase of more than 126 from two years ago – totaling $2.4 billion. These proposals include an income tax cut, teacher and law enforcement pay raises, a college tuition freeze, and key investments in our state's bridges and workforce development through SC Nexus and South Carolina Workforce Industry Needs Scholarships.

The governor's veto message highlights his successful partnership with the General Assembly and commended the strides made by the General Assembly in disclosing the sponsors and recipients of earmarked apportionments. The governor issued 21 vetoes totaling $2.3 million. 

"After decades of overriding the gubernatorial vetoes of innocuous sounding appropriation titles inside of which the earmarks were hidden, the leadership of the Senate and House of Representatives now disclose the sponsors and recipients of earmarked appropriations, as well as the activity, function, or project for which each earmark is intended," Governor McMaster wrote in his veto message. "Many of these earmarks are investments in local governments for the purchase of new patrol cars, body armor, firetrucks, upgraded weaponry, and even K9 officers. There are earmarks for infrastructure, buildings, roads, bridges, wastewater and sewer projects, recreational parks, walking trails, and traffic improvements."

However, the governor repeated his call for the General Assembly to create a public, merit-based competitive grants process for earmark appropriations. Administered by state agencies, funds would be made available only to entities that demonstrate required community support and missions consistent with the policy goals and outcomes intended by the General Assembly. All applications and award criteria would be placed online, allowing for public scrutiny and total transparency.

The governor’s priorities funded in the final budget include the following notable proposals (all statements are attributable to Governor Henry McMaster): 


"No endeavor better illustrates our state’s leadership style than the SC Nexus for Advanced Resilient Energy (SC Nexus) consortium. SC Nexus is the culmination of groundwork laid in prior years through collaborative public-private initiatives and was developed by the South Carolina Department of Commerce in collaboration with our research institutions of higher education, technical colleges, state agencies, the Savannah River National Laboratory, economic development non-profits, and private businesses.

"This budget builds on my request by providing $20 million to support SC Nexus and serve as the “state” match as required to be eligible for federal funding"


"Until recently, South Carolina had the highest personal income tax rate in the southeast and the 12th highest in the nation at 7%. No more. A few years ago, I was honored to propose and sign into law the largest income tax cut in state history, followed by income tax cuts in each subsequent state budget. This budget continues to cut the state’s personal income tax rate, lowering the rate from 6.4% to 6.2%.

"This year taxpayers will keep an additional $199 million of their hard-earned money instead of sending it to state government. If future revenues allow, we should continue cutting the personal income tax rate each year until we are well below the 6% rate." 


"In the area of K-12 education, we continue to make remarkable progress in raising teacher pay. Six years ago, the minimum starting salary of a teacher in South Carolina was $30,113, and the average teacher salary was below the Southeastern average. Today, the minimum starting salary of a teacher in South Carolina is $42,500, and the average teacher salary now exceeds the Southeastern average.

"This budget increases teacher salaries by $4,500, making the new minimum starting teacher salary $47,000. My goal of a minimum starting salary of $50,000 – by 2026 – is within close sight."


"As you are aware, placing an armed, certified school resource officer in every school, in every county, all day, every day, has been one of my top priorities. At my request, the General Assembly began providing funds to hire more resource officers for our state’s 1,284 public schools. The grant program has been very successful. This year’s budget provides $2 million to continue adding officers in the remaining 175 schools without an assigned officer."


"Access and affordability to higher education for every South Carolinian is essential to ensuring that our state has the trained and skilled workforce to compete for jobs and investment in the future. That means we must invest to make all higher education – our colleges, universities, and technical colleges – accessible and affordable for the sons and daughters of South Carolina.

"This year marks the fifth consecutive year that we froze college tuition for in-state students, while providing additional funding for needs-based financial aid at any in-state public or private college, university, or at our 16 technical colleges."


"To address the high demand for skills, training, and knowledge, this budget once again provides $94 million in lottery funds to South Carolina Workforce Industry Needs Scholarships (SC WINS) through the South Carolina Technical College System.

"In the last four years, this very successful program has provided over 108,095 South Carolinians with scholarships to cover the cost of tuition and required fees at any of our technical colleges to earn a post-secondary or industry credential in high-demand careers like manufacturing, nursing, computer science, information technology, transportation, logistics, or construction."


"There is no infrastructure more in need of continued investment than our state’s roads, bridges, highways, and interstates. According to the Department of Transportation, there are nearly 9,000 bridges on primary and secondary roads across our state that need to be repaired, rehabilitated, or rebuilt. Many of these bridges are 60, 70, and even in excess of 80 years old and are crumbling before our eyes each day.

"While the $200 million that was appropriated by the General Assembly was less than the $500 million my executive budget proposed for emergency bridge replacement and repairs, it is nevertheless, a good start."


"For the second year in a row, the General Assembly has agreed and has appropriated $30 million to the Office of Resilience and $28 million to the Conservation Land Bank and the Department of Natural Resources. These funds will enhance these agencies’ existing efforts for preserving culturally or environmentally significant properties, disaster recovery, and flooding mitigation efforts."


"To keep South Carolinians safe, we must maintain a robust law enforcement presence – and properly “fund the police.” Our state law enforcement and criminal justice agencies have begun to stem the tide of personnel loss with recruitment and retention pay raises provided in previous years’ state budgets.

"This state budget continues that investment in our state law enforcement professionals by providing an additional $6.1 million for recruitment and retention pay raises. It is my hope that we will continue this annual investment in every state budget going forward."

Budget Message here.