After years of spending cuts and decreased tax revenue, South Carolina’s $913 million surplus this year means state budget writers get to decide how to spend the windfall. But according to The State’s Adam Beam, the fight over which programs to restore could be even more intense than past battles over which programs to cut.
“Before it was trying to protect what you’ve got,” said Rep. Brian White, Republican chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. “Now it’s trying to get what you can back. It’s a lot different.”
The State’s article focuses on a $3.75 million program to pay for emergency dental procedures for adults on Medicaid, which the state Department of Health and Human Services cut last year to help cover a $228 million agency budget shortfall. DHHS Chief Tony Keck initially wanted Gov. Nikki Haley to restore the funds this year, but the program wasn’t included in the governor’s executive budget.
The SC Dental Association said restoring the Medicaid money and the $9 million federal grant that comes with it will save taxpayer money in the long term, especially since up to 500,000 South Carolinians could be added to the Medicaid list once the Affordable Care Act is implemented.
Another investment South Carolina could make with its budget surplus includes education spending, which has seen millions in cuts by the administrations of Haley and former Gov. Mark Sanford. Both governors have also rejected federal grant money set aside for South Carolina schools, which could have helped offset the deep cuts.
But given top Republicans’ attitude toward public education, don’t count on any of that budget surplus going to South Carolina’s classrooms. Gov. Haley’s 2012 executive budget would cut education spending even further, according to the Associated Press’ Seanna Adcox, and the governor has threatened to veto extra spending on public schools in the past.
The AP reports that while Haley claimed her executive budget increases education funding this year, accounting gimmicks reduce the per-student spending amount to $1,766 — “in a year the state formula calls for it to be $2,790,” writes Adcox.
Kathy Maness of the Palmetto Teachers Association said the education cuts show that public schools aren’t a priority for South Carolina Republicans. “If our state wants economic development, they’ll have to start funding education and making it a priority,” Maness added.
The House Ways and Means Committee will continue discussing the budget this week. If spending is a reflection of our priorities, then key cuts to foundational government efforts like education and infrastructure reflect what the current absolute Republican power base prioritizes. Stay tuned to Palmetto Public Record for more on the fight to invest tax dollars wisely, and what your representatives’ choices mean for you.