Originally created 05/04/02

Agencies ask to finish fiscal year in debt



COLUMBIA - The state Corrections Department is asking the Budget and Control Board to allow the agency to finish the year with a $6.1 million budget deficit.

The prisons agency is one of four asking for that type of fiscal help as the June 30 end of the tumultuous budget year approaches.

The Prosecution Coordination Commission wants permission to run $332,000 in the red and the Tuition Grants Commission says it will be $107,526 short. The Procurement Review Panel says it has a $5,000 shortfall.

The budget board previously told agencies that it would review shortfall requests case by case, said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bobby Harrell. The Charleston Republican, one of the budget board's five members, says corrections needs the help.

"I feel we have to allow the deficit to occur this year because we're down to the last couple of months of the fiscal year, and there's no way around that," Mr. Harrell said.

Cuts at the prison agency have been harsh. The agency started the 2002 fiscal year with $52.7 million, or 16 percent less, than it used in fiscal 2001. Its staff of 6,505 in November 2000 has dwindled to 5,644, the agency said in a letter to the budget board.

The prisons department has raised prices in its canteen, sold timber tracts, raised prison labor prices and instituted co-payments for medical treatments, Corrections Director Gary Maynard said. The agency can't handle the 2.5 percent cut the board demanded in April, because that would result in eliminating up to half of its workers, Mr. Maynard said.

Still, the shortfalls are irksome for some legislators.

"It surprises me that they've waited until the barrel is about ready to roll over the dam to say they need help," said Senate Corrections Committee Chairman Mike Fair, R-Greenville. "This is very disheartening."