The Daily Gamecock

‘This budget year is going to hurt’

Haley announces cuts, reforms in first State of the State address to legislature

Gov. Nikki Haley delivered an ambitious plan to fill South Carolina’s $800 million budget hole in her first State of the State address before the General Assembly Wednesday night.

“I believe that in order for the public to trust us, as we make decisions that may be seen by some as unfair or even callous, we must be honest with them,” Haley said. “This budget year is going to hurt.”

In less than 35 minutes, the new governor said she plans to consolidate departments; instruct Medicaid to issue generic drugs for AIDS, cancer and mental illnesses; reduce the prison recidivism rate; privatize the school bus system and cut funding for ETV and the South Carolina Arts Commission.

“If you think about it, we’re really in the third year of this down budget cycle,” said Robert Oldendick, a political science professor at USC. “A lot of the cuts that were easier to make, or kind of the low-hanging fruit, have already been made.”

As Haley outlined her proposed cuts, she cited her familiar theme of downsizing government.

“The reality is the role of South Carolina’s government in the year 2011 can no longer be to fund an Arts Commission that costs us $2.5 million,” said Haley. “It cannot be one that funds ETV, costing taxpayers $9.5 million.”

Haley estimated reducing the prison recidivism rate would save taxpayers $6 million in administrative costs alone.

“The state of South Carolina pays more than $16,000 annually to incarcerate a single prisoner,” Haley said. “We spend more each year on a prisoner than we do on a student.”

Speaking of students, Haley said privatizing school buses would provide students with a new fleet while keeping current bus drivers employed.

“We are one of the last states in the nation to do so,” said Haley. “Our government just doesn’t need to be in the school bus maintenance business.”

Haley also focused on bringing new companies to South Carolina and aiding small businesses. Repeatedly, Haley said government should not interfere in the private sector.

“In the business world, time is money,” Haley said. “If the government is costing our small businesses time, it is costing them money. That’s unacceptable.”

As during her campaign, Haley denounced South Carolina’s acceptance of federal stimulus money for further harming the state’s budget rather than strengthening it.

“I think that she can frame it that taking that money as a stopgap measure really allowed us to delay taking the problems head on and in the process of doing so made things worse,” Oldendick said. “I don’t think she’s going to back off her stance.”

However, Oldendick said Haley’s new position may help her see the other side.  

“As she gets into looking at the overall state budget, I think she may be surprised how much federal money actually flows to this state,” he said. “I think there’s going to be this recognition that a lot of the state’s budget is also entwined with federal programs.”

Haley also proposed allowing the governor and the lieutenant governor to run on the same ticket and enabling the governor to appoint cabinet heads, such as the superintendent of education.

“It is crucial that the superintendent and governor partner in priorities, spending, graduation rates and the workforce we produce,” Haley said.

Critics of the new governor often say she too much resembles the old. As to how Haley will operate in office, Oldendick said he couldn’t be sure.

“A year ago, based on her record as a member of the General Assembly, I think you would argue that she would be very close to [former Gov. Mark] Sanford,” he said. “But as the campaign played out, she backed away from some of those things — the grocery tax, school vouchers. She wasn’t as adamant in her support of those programs as Sanford had been consistently.”


Trending Now

Send a Tip Get Our Email Editions