COLUMBIA -- Razor wire, new guns and loads of cash are needed to avoid a repeat of what's shaping up as a $36 million deficit in South Carolina's prisons budget, director John Ozmint told state House budget writers Tuesday.
Another suggestion: Stop doing autopsies on executed inmates.
In November, Ozmint told a state budget oversight panel he was expecting to run a $14.5 million deficit. Within a month, a 7 percent across-the-board budget cut more than doubled that to $36 million.
Ozmint and the rest of state government are wrestling with the loss of $1 billion in spending in a budget that started July 1 and has shrunk to $6 billion as a recession blew through the state's economy and finances. Now agencies are being told to present plans to cut more as the new fiscal year's budget is written.
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Ozmint wants $32 million put back into his $342 million budget for the upcoming fiscal year. That includes $3.7 million for maintenance and gear. He's struggling to keep pace with medical cost inflation and rising food costs.
Ozmint said manufacturer parts aren't available for the revolvers that have been in circulation since some of the prisons opened. And the protective vests prison guards wear -- hand-me-downs from other law enforcement agencies -- are worn out.
With gun parts unavailable, Ozmint said, "We've got to replace some of those or we literally are not going to have weapons on our perimeter; not going to have weapons in our vehicles" that transport inmates.
Razor wire in some places is so old and brittle that it snaps in two, Ozmint said.
Beyond the options of closing prisons and overcrowding those remaining and drawing certain federal lawsuits, Ozmint is struggling to find more big items to cut. On Tuesday, for instance, he said the state could save a couple of thousand a year by no longer doing autopsies after executions, tapping dead inmates' saving accounts for the $450 it costs to cremate them when families don't claim remains and increasing fees for inmates participating in work release programs.
State Rep. Joe Neal, D-Hopkins, wasn't ready to drop autopsies.
"All that autopsy does, Mr. Neal, is tell us that guy died from electrocution or he died from lethal injection," Ozmint said.
But Neal said autopsies may be needed to make sure the executions weren't cruel.
"Doing this isn't going to jeopardize the legality of our executions, it's just going to save us $700 per execution," Ozmint said.
Ozmint also wants more flexibility in firing and furlough decisions. Ozmint already is being sued by employees for past firing actions and says he shouldn't face legal challenges when he's forced to cut payrolls to keep his agency's budget balanced.
But legislators also limit how state agency heads send workers home without pay. Ozmint said if he could single out the highest paid people in top levels at the agency and prisons for furloughs, he could save $1.6 million without a broad furlough that would take guards off cell blocks.