SC budget board OKs $100M Medicaid agency bailout

By Jack Kuenzie - bio | email

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Governor Nikki Haley and other members of the Budget and Control Board on Tuesday had to approve a bailout of at least $100 million for the state's Medicaid agency, and the red ink could run even deeper.

"Although rates are the quickest place we can go, they shouldn't always be the first place we should go," said Haley.
On the job as director for less than two weeks, Tony Keck has been scrambling to come up with a new approach to Health and Human Services budgeting. Not an easy task, with Keck inheriting an agency $228 million dollars in the red.

Keck says he's found three million in budget cuts, a figure so far from eliminating the shortfall that Haley and the rest of the Budget and Control Board had to give in. "It is with great, great regret that I have to make a motion to accept this $225 million deficit with the promise that we will not have to deal with this again," said Haley.

The board, on a motion from Florence Senator Hugh Leatherman, quickly moved to allow Health and Human Services to operate with a deficit of only $100 million. That saves the state's Medicaid program, for the time being, as Keck tries to close the remaining gap of $125 million.

Haley admitted later it will be extremely difficult to completely eliminate the deficit. "It's not something I'm comfortable with," said Haley. "This isn't a fun day for me. I'm used to being able to find solutions to everything, and we've had very little time to do it. I just got my people confirmed. We just got a budget handed to us. We just got deficits handed to us, all within about a month's time. So trying to do this has been difficult, but I am not afraid of the challenge. We'll continue to work."

The board cut no such slack for the Department of Corrections, also running a deficit. That agency still has to cover a shortfall of $5 million.

The board met for the first time in the Blatt Building, instead of a routinely overcrowded conference room in the Wade Hampton Building. Comptroller Richard Eckstrom and Senator Leatherman complained the large linear desk they were seated behind did not allow members to look each other in the eye.

Treasurer Curtis Loftis vowed to fight in the name of increased transparency and public access to continue to meet in a bigger room.

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