Budget board to debate bailouts

Prisons, Medicaid will face shortfalls

COLUMBIA --- The people who hold South Carolina's purse strings are about to sit down together for their first major meeting, and the outlook is not pretty.

Nikki Haley: The governor wants to improve relations with budget leaders strained by predecessor Mark Sanford.   Associated Press
Associated Press
Nikki Haley: The governor wants to improve relations with budget leaders strained by predecessor Mark Sanford.

The state's $5 billion budget is a wreck, and behind-the-scenes bickering has echoes of a family squabble as the Budget Control Board prepares to meet.

For instance, Gov. Nikki Haley's top aide snubbed the treasurer last week in a letter that said he was irrelevant to budget discussions.

Haley is the new chairwoman of the five-member, all-Republican board that oversees most of the state's bureaucracy and borrowing decisions.

The panel met briefly last month to hire a new day-to-day director. This meeting will be dominated by whether the board will OK a $228 million bailout for the state's Medicaid agency and an additional $7.4 million for state prisons.

The Department of Health and Human Services says it will have to shut off payments for Medicaid providers in March if the board doesn't approve a bailout.

Haley said Monday she was trying to narrow the shortfalls, but wouldn't say whether she'd agree to the bailouts.

"I am not comfortable with deficits," she said.

Shortfalls would be made up by state surpluses or reserves.

No one expects Haley's meetings to be anything like the marathon arguments presided over by her predecessor, Republican Gov. Mark Sanford.

Sanford, despite a knack for warnings about the state's financial problems, routinely ended up on the losing side of 3-2 votes after protracted debates that left opponents shaking heads.

Haley, on the other hand, has spent weeks making sure she and Sanford's top antagonists -- Cooper and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Hugh Leatherman -- are meshing on budget issues.

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