A University of South Carolina chemistry professor is taking on Gov. Nikki Haley and the state’s Budget & Control Board over an increase in health care premiums for state workers.
Dr. Thomas A. Bryson is Director of Graduate Studies and a Distinguished Professor Emeritus of the University of South Carolina’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. In a lawsuit filed on Monday with the State Supreme Court, Bryson argued that Gov. Haley and the board lacked the authority to require state workers to pay 50 percent of their premium increase.
The Budget & Control Board’s move last week defied lawmakers and the state budget, which provided enough funding to cover the entire increase. According to WIS-TV, House Speaker Bobby Harrell predicted the lawsuit as soon as he heard about the board’s decision:
The Charleston Republican called it frustrating, saying an expected class-action lawsuit will just cost the state more money and the state would likely lose.
Legislators and long-time staff can’t remember the board ever ignoring the budget when approving the contribution rates, a vote viewed as procedural.
Gov. Haley and the board’s decision to disregard state lawmakers and ignore the budget has been met with a decidedly negative reaction. On Sunday, The State published an editorial questioning the governor’s warped view of checks and balances in the State House:
Frankly, it scares us to realize that we have a governor who doesn’t understand the basic underpinnings of government in the United States, not just in strong-legislative states such as ours but in strong-governor states: The legislative branch writes and rewrites laws whenever it wants to. The governor has the power to veto bills and individual items in the budget, but once that process is through, the executive branch implements the law. Whether it was wise or not. Whether the governor or anyone else likes it or not.
It scares us to see how careless our governor is about whether she has the legal authority to do whatever it is she wants to do.
One immediately hearkens back to Gov. Haley’s speech to the SCGOP Executive Committee in May, in which she urged state Republicans to disregard a State Supreme Court decision removing State House candidates from the ballot for improperly filing an ethics document. “Did the law say they couldn’t run? Yes,” Haley said. “But we can change the law — we do it every day.”
The next day, however, the State Elections Commission resoundingly informed Gov. Haley and the SCGOP that they cannot make up the law as they go along. Because the circumstances surrounding Bryson’s lawsuit are somewhat unprecedented, it remains to be seen whether the Budget & Control Board’s move will be similarly struck down.
It’s completely understandable for a governor to want to expand the powers of his or her office, though we’re not really sure how that fits in with Gov. Haley’s “small government” philosophy. However, those powers should not come at the expense of checks and balances — and they certainly shouldn’t come at the expense of state workers.