Health funding may be slashed

Associated Press
Mark Sanford: Governor's office says certain health care cuts are necessary to sustain Medicaid in the state.

COLUMBIA --- Health care for poor children and name-brand drugs for some sick people could wind up on the budget-cutting floor in the coming weeks if South Carolina lawmakers face forecasts that show tax collections aren't keeping up with spending demands.

Gov. Mark Sanford already has called for cutting $326 million, or 4.6 percent, from the current $7 billion budget. His proposals include taking $22 million from a health insurance program legislators ordered expanded last year to cover 70,000 additional children. Mr. Sanford also wants the state to save $16 million by moving more Medicaid users to generic drugs.

Belt-tightening appears inevitable, and critics are firing away at the budget the Republican governor proposed.

"For the governor to go after children's' health care again is just unconscionable," said Sue Berkowitz, the director of South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice. "We always take that seriously, although we don't see support for that" among legislators.

The governor's office defends its health care proposals as needed to sustain Medicaid. Mr. Sanford spokesman Joel Sawyer points out that South Carolina is near the top in the nation when it comes to the percentage of children who receive subsidized care, although the state also has among the lowest personal income levels.

The state Board of Economic Advisors is to release today a state revenue estimate that will clear the way for the House Ways and Means Committee to finish writing its budget. Unless sales tax collections fell sharply in January, the board says its current estimate of about 3 percent revenue growth over the fiscal year should stand. But that's so low, legislators need to trim spending.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dan Cooper, R-Piedmont, said he thinks some of the spending gap can be closed with surpluses the Legislature has allowed agencies to accumulate. For instance, Mr. Cooper said, the state Department of Health and Human Services has $100 million in leftover funds and the Commerce Department has about $90 million.