COLUMBIA -- Gov. Mark Sanford offered a new state spending plan Monday that would add nearly 300 state troopers and prison guards but cut health insurance for poor children while continuing his crusade to reduce state income taxes.
The $6.8 billion plan for the year starting July 1 is based on expectations of a smaller revenue pot from a slumping economy.
"We'll walk into a very difficult budget year," Sanford said. "We think this may be a multi-year slowdown."
The proposal came as lawmakers return to work today and prepare to address the plan, along with requests from those affected who may want to change it.
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Members of the General Assembly often give Sanford's spending ideas short shrift, particularly when it comes to reducing services he considers outdated, redundant or unnecessary.
But less state revenue means less to quarrel about, some key legislators said.
"This is a fiscally conservative document going into a period of financial uncertainty in South Carolina and the nation," said Senate education committee chairman John Courson, R-Richland.
Sanford proposes spending about $300 million more than he recommended a year ago, and $326 million less, he said, than lawmakers approved for the current year that ends June 30.
To pay for most of his proposals, including $50 million to save more state land from development, Sanford wants to redirect $183 million from current spending. About $18 million in proposed savings would come from restructuring some state agencies.
His biggest cut, $22 million, involves axing last year's extension of health insurance to about 70,000 low-income children. It resumes a fight he lost last year and quickly drew flak Monday.
"These are the most vulnerable who have nowhere else to turn, and turning our back on these children is unacceptable," said House minority leader Harry Ott, D-Calhoun.
Sanford's familiar income tax cut proposal would give South Carolinians the choice of paying a 3.4 percent income tax with no deductions allowed instead of the current 7 percent after exemptions. It would be paid for by raising the cigarette tax to 37 cents from 30 cents per pack, shifting an estimated $107 million in revenue from wage-earners to smokers.
Some lawmakers and health advocacy groups want the revenue from the tobacco tax hike to be spent on health care.
But Sanford isn't ready to accept that. So a standoff looms.
"Just to raise the cigarette tax to punish smokers, I don't have any appetite for that," said Senate majority leader Harvey Peeler, R-Gaffney.
For higher education, Sanford again proposed increases in LIFE and Palmetto Fellows scholarships for high school students. But, like some key lawmakers, he signaled such increases may be coming to an end.
He suggested looking at raising academic standards for recipients, which could shrink amounts awarded or the pool of those receiving the aid.
The budget includes nothing for road improvements, but Sanford said he will offer ideas soon.
One possibility, he said, is adding lanes to interstate highways that are available only to motorists willing to pay a fee.
Cuts in the 2008-2009 state budget proposed by Gov. Mark Sanford include:
• $21.6 million to undo an expansion of the Children's Health Insurance Program
• $17.6 million to not rehire employees ending a five-year retiree incentive program
• $16.4 million to move state health plan to generic drugs
• $10.4 million in travel expenses across all agencies
• $7 million to reduce maintenance at public colleges and tech schools within 25 miles of each other
• $4.7 million to move chiropractic care paid by the state to a network and copay system