After Filibuster, Senator Eyes Budget Cuts, Tax Refunds
By Eric K. Ward The Nerve
S.C. Sen. Tom Davis wants to cut next year’s proposed state budget by at least $149 million and have that money refunded to South Carolina taxpayers. The senator’s proposed cuts and rebates could be twice that amount, or closer to $300 million, based on calculations he attributes to Senate Finance Committee staff. Davis, R-Beaufort, says he plans to propose a series of amendments to implement the spending cuts and tax rebates when senators resume deliberations next week on a budget for the 2011-12 fiscal year, which begins July 1. The Senate has been debating an approximately $21.8 billion budget since the final week of April. Members of the chamber plan to pick it back up when they are scheduled to reconvene Tuesday at 10 a.m. Again citing Senate Finance data, Davis says the general fund portion of the proposed budget would grow from $5.1 billion this year to $5.86 billion next year, an increase of $760 million or nearly 15 percent. “And my point was households haven’t seen that kind of an increase in their incomes,” Davis says of an unusual, five-hour filibuster he mounted against the budget on the Senate floor Thursday. “I mean they’re trying to make ends meet.” The general fund, about one-fourth of the budget, consists of state tax revenue. The rest of the budget comes from “other” funds, mostly fees and fines, and federal funds. Davis says the Legislature, and state government in general, should abandon its spend-whatever-we-collect mentality and instead focus on core functions, discontinuing activities outside of its mission such as economic development.
Send it Back Whatever money remains after that process, he says, “Let’s send it back to the taxpayer. Essentially we’ve over-collected.” Davis provided The Nerve with an advance copy of nine budget amendments he plans to introduce. Most of his would-be cuts and taxpayer refunds would come from a $100 million reduction in Medicaid, a federal- and state-funded health care program for the poor, elderly and disabled. Another amendment proposes a 10 percent reduction in funding to the Commission on Higher Education and state-supported colleges and universities. The schools “must reduce administrative and non-classroom instructional programs to absorb the cost,” the amendment says. Five of the amendments similarly seek 10 percent funding reductions to a host of agencies and departments, including the House and Senate, and all nine constitutional officers except the attorney general and adjutant general. The 10 percent list also features the Public Service Commission and the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism. The Department of Consumer Affairs would get about $565,000 less. Davis says he reviewed the Senate Finance allocations to each entity compared to its core mission and asked staff members of the committee to calculate his proposed savings. Adding the figures, The Nerve came up with a little more than $149 million. The total listed in the documents, however, is double that amount – $298 million. Davis says he isn’t sure how to account for the discrepancy.
Income Tax Rebate Fund It could trace to a formula outlined in another of his amendments. That one would set up an “Income Tax Rebate Fund” in the S.C. Treasurer’s Office. The office would use the formula and the fund to compute and issue refunds to taxpayers. Late filers would not qualify. The final Davis amendment calls for using any general fund revenue collected through the first three quarters of next fiscal year in excess of projections to help pay off nearly $1 billion in state debt to the federal government for unemployment benefits. Asked why he would take the largest share of his cuts out of Medicaid, Davis says the budget the Finance Committee presented to the Senate would grow Medicaid by $200 million, meaning the program still would receive $100 million more over this year even if his suggested cut passes. Also, Davis notes that the Legislature has taken steps to reduce Medicaid costs by repealing several provisos. Those measures mandate certain Medicaid services, such as medically necessary chiropractic care. Another one of the provisos prohibits the state agency that manages Medicaid, the S.C. Department of Health and Human Services, from reducing payment rates to hospitals and other Medicaid providers. South Carolina is the only state with a lock on its Medicaid provider rates, according to state officials and health care industry representatives. Health and Human Services officials have said they are planning to cut rates 10 percent overall, but reductions for different industry sectors would vary. The Nerve asked HHS for a response to Davis’ proposed $100 million reduction. “Instead of taking 10 percent from the Medicaid provider line, we’d have to take around 18 percent,” agency director Tony Keck said in an email from HHS spokesman Jeff Stensland. Continuing, Keck wrote, “Since most of our saving strategies, such as reducing NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) days, would be maxed out, most of the additional 8 percent would have to come from eliminating or significantly curtailing optional services and programs. “We’d also have to look at additional rate cuts to managed care organizations and providers.”
Commitment on Amendments Davis says he agreed to end his budget filibuster only after receiving a commitment in writing from enough of his fellow senators that would allow him to bring his amendments to the floor for a vote. Under Senate rules, doing so requires the consent of three-fifths, or 60 percent, of senators present. While Davis spoke against the size of the budget on the floor of the chamber Thursday, he says his desk mate, Republican Sen. Phillip Shoopman of Greenville, approached all of their colleagues on hand asking where they stood on the matter, checking off their positions accordingly. Only three senators said they would oppose the Davis amendments being voted on, according to the list Davis provided: Republicans Hugh Leatherman of Florence, Paul Campbell of Berkeley and Ray Cleary of Georgetown. Sens. Thomas Alexander, R-Oconee, and Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston and president pro tempore of the chamber, were marked as “present.” Sens. Darrell Jackson, D-Richland, and Gerald Malloy, D-Darlington, were recorded as unsure. Davis said he did not know how to explain the “present” answer. Efforts to reach Shoopman on Friday were unsuccessful. Reach Ward at (803) 254-4411 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
It would appear Senator Campbell finds himself on the wrong side of an issue, again. He contrived reasons why he, originally, would not support the Voter ID bill and now, he refuses to back spending cuts to reduce the budget. Let's see, exactly when does Senator Campbell come up for reelection? We'll have to make a mental note of that for future reference.