Powerful SC House budget chairman loses his post to Sumter Republican
The chairman of the S.C. House’s budget-writing committee — one of the most powerful legislators in the General Assembly — has lost his job, a month before lawmakers return to Columbia for the 2019 session.
In a major State House shakeup that surprised most lawmakers, S.C. House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, removed state Rep. Brian White, R-Anderson, from his post on the Ways and Means Committee and reassigned him to the House’s Labor and Industry Committee — a demotion to a far less influential panel.
Ways and Means Committee members unanimously elected state Rep. Murrell Smith as chairman Wednesday. The Sumter Republican chaired the committee’s health-care panel this past legislative session. He previously was on the House Judiciary Committee for eight years before joining Ways and Means in 2009.
“Obviously, it’s an honor,” said Smith, an attorney who represents a moderate GOP district in the S.C. House.
Smith also will chair the House’s Ethics Committee at least until January, when that panel elects its next leader. State Rep. Mike Pitts, R-Laurens, stepped down as Ethics chairman after suffering a heart attack in October.. Separately, state Rep. Peter McCoy, R-Charleston, was elected chair of the House’s powerful Judiciary Committee.
The Ways and Means Committee is powerful. The 25-member panel writes the first draft of the state’s more than $8 billion general fund budget, and the committee’s chairman can influence heavily priorities for state spending.
That means picking winners and losers out of a multitude of spending requests that come in each year from state agencies, including South Carolina’s colleges and universities and K-12 schools.
Since 2011, White had been at the center of that process. However, critics said White too often did not listen to other House members or leaders, making decisions unilaterally.
White’s ouster further reduces the Upstate’s power in the Legislature, which has been on the wane since the retirement of House Speaker David Wilkins, R-Greenville. For a decade that power shifted to the Lowcountry, which elected a governor, speaker and Senate leader. Since then, however, that influence has shifted to the Interstate 20 corridor, which now boasts a governor, speaker, Senate leader and — with Smith — a House budget leader.
White learned of his replacement late Tuesday.
White declined further comment.