COLUMBIA --- South Carolina lawmakers on Monday approved plans that would avoid all cuts in health and medical programs by using federal Medicaid bailout cash. With a 96-6 vote, the House approved a measure that uses $173.6 million in federal Medicaid money to eliminate planned reductions for the Department of Disabilities and Special Needs, prescription drugs and other programs.
But if the federal money -- which has yet to win final approval in Washington -- doesn't materialize, the spending reductions would take effect, said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dan Cooper, R-Piedmont.
Republican state Rep. Nikki Haley, a Lexington resident running for governor, was leery and noted that cash hasn't won final approval in Washington.
"We are relying on stimulus that hasn't passed," she said. Haley argued that legislators needed to come up with money from other parts of the budget instead.
If the federal money doesn't come through, people with disabilities "are going to be stuck with the same cuts they have, where we probably could prioritizes our spending right now, give them what they need right now and take the burn and deal with the issue right now," Haley said to applause from the House gallery.
A couple of hours later, state Rep. Garry Smith offered a series of amendments to shut down agencies. But Haley had left early. Her campaign spokesman said she was at political events in Greenville and Spartanburg and hadn't expected the budget debate to last so long.
Smith's amendments to shut down the State Museum, Arts Commission, Minority Affairs Commission, Human Affairs Commission and Sea Grant Consortium would have generated about $8 million that Smith said would better be used in public schools.
"It's time that we set some priorities," said Smith, a Simpsonville Republican.
Others argued that the programs were vital education in the case of the arts and museum programs, while agencies such as the Human Affairs Commission make sure workers have recourse for harassment and discrimination complaints.
All of Smith's amendments failed by wide margins as the House debated a $5 billion state spending plan that depends on more than $737 million in federal budget bailout money to keep programs running.