Haley asks panel to tackle looming state budget crisis - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina

Haley asks panel to tackle looming state budget crisis

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) — Governor-elect Nikki Haley is asking a fiscal crisis task force to come up with ideas to deal with a looming state budget crisis that could top $1 billion.

Haley said she's worked since the election to get a handle on the state's problems. "Part of that understanding that we are going into what is going to be the worst budget year that the state has seen," Haley said. "We have to make sure that we are in front of the crisis as opposed to being behind it."

Estimates show the state's $5 billion budget faces a $1 billion hole in July and already is short more than $270 million for the current fiscal year.

"Within these serious challenges lies a tremendous opportunity for South Carolina government to get smaller, to get smarter, and to better serve the citizens of our state," said Haley.

The state Department of Health and Human Services said last week that it would have to shut off payments to doctors taking Medicaid for the state's elderly, disabled and poor unless the state approves plans for it to run a $228 million deficit in the current fiscal year.

Outgoing Governor Mark Sanford has ordered his cabinet directors to freeze any raises or promotions within their agencies, and Haley urged the rest of state government to do the same.

For the group, Haley tapped George Schroeder, the former director of the state's Legislative Audit Council; U.S. Rep. Henry Brown, a Republican leaving office in January and who was a former state House budget committee chairman and Ashley Landess, chief executive of the conservative South Carolina Policy Council. State Rep. Nathan Ballentine of Irmo and state Sen. Tom Davis of Beaufort are also on the group. The task force is expected to come up with ideas before Haley takes office in January.

Schroeder, who ran the council for 33 years, said he probably had identified $1 billion in waste and fraud in his career and the group should be able to draw on the expertise needed to find savings. "I think we have a reasonable opportunity for success," Schroeder said.

"No one has ever said this isn't going to hurt. I think we have to be realistic with the people of South Carolina that this is going to hurt," Haley said.

Haley said the group would start meeting immediately and decide what government has a responsibility to provide to citizens.

The state Department of Health and Human Services said last week that it would have to shut off payments to doctors taking Medicaid for the state's elderly, disabled and poor unless the state approves plans for it to run a $228 million deficit in the current fiscal year.

Haley isn't ready to say what's needed there as demand for Medicaid coverage for the poor has grown in the recession and will grow more with federal health care law changes.

The governor-elect also launched a website where South Carolinians – including state employees – can report state government waste, fraud and abuse and make suggestions about how to make state government more fiscally sound and efficient.

Copyright 2010 WIS. All rights reserved. AP contributed to this report.

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