COLUMBIA — House lawmakers approved a $22.7 billion spending plan on Wednesday that attempts to balance the rising costs of health care with the needs of state agencies still reeling from recession budget cuts.
The budget includes big increases for public-safety agencies including a 3 percent raise for officers at maximum-security prisons along with $100 million to begin paying for $29 billion in needed repairs to roads and bridges.
The budget debate was overshadowed by the rising cost of health care and how to pay for it as state officials nationwide prepare to enact the federal Affordable Care Act in January. Republicans, who control the House, voted Tuesday to reject the optional portions of that law, meaning the state will not offer taxpayer-funded health insurance to up to 500,000 poor South Carolinians.
Even without that expansion, the budget includes a $541 million increase to Medicaid spending, including an extra $109 million in state general fund money, which comes from state sales and income taxes the largest increase at any state agency.
Also, if the House plan is adopted by the state Senate and approved by Gov. Nikki Haley, taxpayers would spend an extra $58.9 million on the health plan that insures more than 500,000 state workers and their families. Lawmakers were considering increases of as high as $124 million but ended up asking state workers to pay more raising employee co-pays by 20 percent to help soften the health plans impact on the state budget.
Combined, after an international hacker stole the personal information of 6.4 million S.C. consumers and businesses. But, with a few exceptions, agencies did not get that money. Instead, lawmakers included $45.2 million to pay for two years of credit monitoring for affected taxpayers and to develop statewide security improvements.
The final vote was 116-1. Only state Rep. Seth Whipper, D-Charleston, voted no.
The budget now heads to the state Senate, where the prospects are significantly better for expanding Medicaid, the joint federal-state health insurance program for the poor and disabled. Republican Gov. Haley has vowed to veto to Medicaid expansion if it reaches her desk. Overriding a veto is unlikely in the House, where almost two-thirds of members are Republicans.
I wish the Senate would just rubber stamp it and send it on back, House Budget chairman Brian White, R-Anderson, said of the House budget plan. I dont think that will happen, so well be back here again real soon.
House Democrats said they were many great things in this years budget, but they were extremely disappointed it did not expand Medicaid, contending that would have pumped $11 billion in the states economy and created 44,000 jobs.