Originally created 03/07/03

Conservation group urges protection of environmental funds



COLUMBIA, S.C. -- The South Carolina Wildlife Federation wants legislators to avoid raiding cleanup funds and other environmental protection accounts to deal with the state's budget crisis.

The conservation group made its plea Wednesday after House budget writers proposed taking about $16 million from various environmental funds for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Legislators took $53.4 million from environmental protection accounts to help balance the state's current budget.

"While budget cuts loom in the newly printed state budget, it is vital for state lawmakers to keep their promises to South Carolinians and use moneys held in trust for conservation for those purposes, not to balance the general fund," said Andy Brack, federation president.

The House will debate its nearly $5.1 billion budget next week.

House Majority Leader Rick Quinn, R-Columbia, said lawmakers are struggling to balance the budget, and some cuts are painful.

But Sen. Phil Leventis, D-Sumter, said the Legislature has an obligation in the future to pay the environmental funds back.

Currently, "there is no commitment or plan to pay them back," Leventis said. "It's a really poor way to do business. It is deficit spending."