2013-05-13 / Columns


Budget board overstepped

We think the S.C. Supreme Court was correct in ruling that Gov. Nikki Haley and members of the state Budget and Control Board had exceeded their authority in trying to overrule the Legislature and increase health-insurance premiums for state workers. Too bad the ruling also ratifies a bad decision on the part of the Legislature.

After years of budget cuts, state lawmakers decided last year to give stateworkersa3percentraise,thefirstraiseinfouryears.Butatthe same time, lawmakers also increased state workers’ required contributions to the state retirement fund, amounting to about $51 million.

In effect, this would have meant giving with one hand and taking away with the other. The increase in health-insurance premiums would have wiped out any gain from the raises.

So, lawmakers adopted a budget saying the state should pay 100 percent of that $51 million premium increase. Workers and retirees covered by the state health plan would pay nothing to cover the increase.

Haley signed that budget, which took effect July 1. But in August, at a Budget and Control Board meeting, Haley surprised state workers by asking the board to vote to split the cost of the higher insurance premiums with workers.

The budget board voted 3-2 in favor of that split, with State Treasurer Curtis Loftis and Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom joining Haley. The two legislative board members voted against the split.

The budget board’s actions violated the separation-of-powers doctrine. If the court had upheld the right of the governor and the budget board — the executive branch — to overrule the legislature on appropriations, it would have given the board “unbridled power to disregard the General Assembly’s appropriations and make its own appropriations decisions,” Associate Justice Kaye G. Hearn wrote in the unanimous opinion. ...

In their budget proposal, House lawmakers decided to pay100 percent of that premium increase. But they voted to increase the co-payments by state workers by 20 percent, saving taxpayers about $30 million and cutting the added amount needed for the health plan to about $54 million.

The state Senate hasn’t decided yet how it will handle the increase. We hope its plan also will share the burden — and that another constitutional showdown can be avoided this year.

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