COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom told state senators Thursday the state's general fund budget was off by $3.5 billion as late as last November.
Eckstrom made the admission during a hearing of the Senate Finance Committee.
Eckstrom told members it was an accounting mistake. He explained the missing money comes from an issue with the state's accounting system that reportedly started back in 2007. Eckstrom said that's when certain transactions in the accounting system were not recorded in the state's annual cash budget report.
Senators seemed taken aback by the news.
"I'm really greatly disturbed over this error, I am, and I know you're concerned over it and are trying to take responsibility to ensure it never happens again," said State Senator Larry Grooms (R-Berkeley County).
Eckstrom said the issue had continued for more than 10 years and his staff noticed the problem at the start of the pandemic, when the state spotted large amounts of COVID relief money given to colleges and universities they did not end up receiving.
The multi-billion dollar mixup is now leaving many lawmakers concerned.
"It seems to me like you've got a problem, a huge problem, and it took years to discover it and it was mounting," Grooms told Eckstrom.
"We've dealt with the problem," Eckstrom assured him. "But we've gone further than that. We're working with the treasurer's office now, for the treasuer's office to prepare reports that will provide us more visibility as to what the state's cash balances are."
Despite the accounting error, Eckstrom says there should not be any issues for lawmakers as they debate a budget plan.
Meanwhile lawmakers plan to take a deep dive into this issue with the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Sen. Harvey Peeler, calling for an investigation.