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South Carolina’s budget basics
According to the National Association of State Budget Officers (NASBO), South Carolina’s total expenditures in fiscal year (FY) 2021 were $29.4 billion, including general funds, other state funds, bonds, and federal funds. NASBO reported that total expenditures across all states in FY 2021 were $2.7 trillion, ranging from $4.7 billion in Wyoming to $512.8 billion in California.
Each state allocates spending and taxes differently among different levels of governments, and local governments often administer programs with state funds, so combined state and local government data show a more complete picture of individual benefits and contributions when comparing states.
Per the US Census Bureau, South Carolina’s combined state and local direct general expenditures were $46.2 billion in FY 2019 (the most recent year census data were available), or $8,966 per capita. (Census data exclude “business-like” activities such as utilities and transfers between state and local governments.) National per capita direct general expenditures were $10,161.
South Carolina’s largest spending areas per capita were elementary and secondary education ($1,895) and health and hospitals ($1,727). The Census Bureau includes most Medicaid spending in public welfare but also allocates some of it to public hospitals. Per capita spending is useful for state comparisons but is an incomplete metric because it doesn’t provide any information about a state’s demographics, policy decisions, administrative procedures, or residents’ choices.
South Carolina’s combined state and local general revenues were $46.5 billion in FY 2019, or $9,024 per capita. National per capita general revenues were $10,563. South Carolina uses all major state and local taxes. South Carolina’s largest sources of per capita revenue were charges ($2,570), such as state university tuition and highway tolls, and federal transfers ($1,887).
South Carolina’s politics
Governor Henry McMaster, a Republican, was elected in 2018 with 54 percent of the vote. The next gubernatorial election is in 2022.
Republicans control both the House of Representatives (80 Republicans to 43 Democrats) and Senate (29 Republicans to 16 Democrats). Control of the governor’s mansion and each house of the legislature gives Republicans a trifecta in South Carolina. All South Carolina House seats are on the ballot in 2022 because representatives serve two-year terms. Senators serve four-year terms, and their seats are on the ballot in 2024.
South Carolina’s budget institutions, rules, and constraints
South Carolina uses an annual budget. The legislature must pass a balanced budget and it is prohibited from carrying a deficit over into the following year. South Carolina further limits spending with a budget rule based on personal income growth. The rule requires a special vote to override the limit. South Carolina also limits authorized debt and debt service.
(Note: Some states have informal budget institutions that constrain overall spending growth or a specific expenditure’s growth.)
South Carolina’s current budget
Under the American Rescue Plan, South Carolina will receive $2.5 billion in direct state fiscal aid and $1.2 billion in local government aid from the federal government. As of January 2022, South Carolina had not reported how it plans to spend its state ARP funds.
According to NASBO, South Carolina’s recent expenditure totals (general fund spending/total spending, including federal transfers) were:
FY 2021: $8.6 billion/$29.4 billion
FY 2020: $8.7 billion/$26.9 billion
FY 2019: $8.3 billion/$26.1 billion
For more on South Carolina’s budget, see
South Carolina’s economic trends
South Carolina’s per capita income (per the Bureau of Economic Analysis) was $52,074 in 2021, ranking 43rd among the states. It was below both the national average of $63,444 and the Southeast regional average of $56,118. The state’s median household income (five-year estimate) was $54,864 in 2020, ranking 41st among the states and below the national average of $64,994. South Carolina’s poverty rate was 14.7 percent in 2020 (five-year estimate), above the national rate of 12.8 percent.
Although South Carolina’s averages tell a story about the entire state, South Carolina is composed of diverse localities. For example, the city of Greenwood’s median household income was $32,970, and its poverty rate was 28.9 percent; the city of Mount Pleasant’s median household income was $104,772, and its poverty rate was 5.1 percent.
South Carolina’s unemployment rate has historically been above the national average, but in recent years it has more closely tracked the US rate. (See how COVID-19 is affecting state employment and earnings data.)
Unemployment rates (like other economic indicators) often vary significantly by race and ethnicity. In South Carolina, the average unemployment rate in 2021 was 3.2 percent for white residents, 6.7 percent for Black residents, and 2.6 percent for Hispanic or Latino residents. (This is preliminary data. See the 2020 data for a more detailed breakdown of state unemployment rates by race and ethnicity.)