COLUMBIA — Gov. Nikki Haley’s budget plan she presented Thursday would spend more on computer security, law enforcement and health care. She also asked that not-yet-projected revenue go toward tax relief that saves the average filer less than $30.
Her $6.3 billion budget plan for the fiscal year that starts July 1 seeks $47 million for computer security following a massive breach at the state’s tax collection agency. More than 40 percent of the money would pay back a loan approved last week by the Budget and Control Board to cover costs incurred so far.
The Department of Revenue is receiving a $20.2 million loan this fiscal year from the state’s insurance reserves.
Haley wants $12.4 million to complete computer upgrades at the agency, plus $3 million for security consultants.
The Republican governor also wants to hire 25 agents to supervise parolees, 10 natural resources officers, 18 state troopers and 15 employees at the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division, to include agents and lab technicians. She also wants to provide all troopers wireless access in their vehicles and upgrade prison officers’ safety.
The only salary increases Haley proposes are to officers that work in the state’s eight maximum security prisons for violent offenders. She recommends giving them a 3 percent boost.
She noted that when she visited Lee Correctional in Bishopville, where inmates took officers hostage in June and September, 60 positions were open. Authorities could not fill them “because people are too scared to work there,” she said
Her budget would spend $10 million to build two watch towers at Lee Correctional and buy cameras, metal detectors and wands at prisons statewide.
“We are sending them in there every day and not giving them the tools to protect themselves,” Haley said. “You are not giving money to prisoners. You’re giving money to people who keep prisoners from harming you.”
Haley said the budget’s top cost driver is health care, with state employee benefits costing nearly $80 million more. Haley adamantly opposes expanding Medicaid eligibility under the federal health care – a decision left to legislators next session. Still, Haley’s budget allocates an additional $67 million to Medicaid just to cover already-eligible residents expected to sign up after the law takes effect.
Governors generally release their executive budgets in January before session starts. But Haley said she wanted to get her proposal to legislators sooner this year in hopes they’ll use more of her recommendations as they craft the budget. Haley recognized that legislators largely ignored former Gov. Mark Sanford’s budget plans.
“We don’t do this for kicks and giggles,” she said.
Haley’s $6.3 billion plan represents a 3 percent increase in spending from the state’s general fund, which doesn’t include federal money and other sources such as fines and fees that agencies collect.
Haley’s budget is based on the Board of Economic Advisors’ current predictions for tax collections in 2013-14. The board revises their estimate in the spring, which usually gives legislators more money to work with, though 2008-09 and 2009-10 were exceptions. On average over the last eight years, legislators have had $100 million more to allocate in their final approved spending plan than the governor.
Haley said when the “money tree falls” this spring, legislators should use $26 million of it to cut income taxes. Eliminating the 6 percent tax bracket, would save the average filer $29, according to her report.
She wants the rest spent on roads and bridges, calling that tax relief.
“This is an option not to increase the gas tax,” she said.
The state transportation department anticipates needing nearly $50 billion over the next 20 years for infrastructure but only receiving $19 billion under the current system. The state motor fuel tax, which has been 16 cents per gallon since 1987, is the agency’s main funding source but is declining due to improved vehicle fuel efficiency and higher costs for gasoline and diesel fuel.
Haley said she will not tolerate any move to increase that tax and considers her plan a start toward addressing the multi-billion-dollar need.