Some state agencies are more efficiently run than others. Some state agencies have greater needs than others. Some state agencies perform more vital functions than others. Some state agencies can afford to postpone spending that others can't.
The uniform, 3 percent across-the-board cuts in state spending approved Tuesday by a majority of the state Budget and Control Board makes no such distinctions. And that amounts to a dereliction of duty on the part of state lawmakers.
The action came as an effort to plug projected budget gaps resulting from slowing tax revenues. The total cut would amount to $188 million out of the state's $7 billion budget.
By law, the Budget and Control Board is not permitted to make targeted cuts in state spending. Only the Legislature can do that.
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But the board could have sequestered all or part of the $188 million, giving lawmakers a chance to reconvene and address budget shortfalls in a responsible way. That, in fact, is what the Legislature should have done in the first place but failed to do during the regular session, making further cuts necessary.
The five-member Budget and Control Board consists of the governor, the comptroller general, the treasurer and a representative of both the House and the Senate. Gov. Mark Sanford and Comptroller Richard Eckstrom voted against the across-the-board cuts, while Treasurer Converse Chellis, Sen. Hugh Leatherman and Rep. Dan Cooper voted for the cuts.
Sanford has frequently argued that uniform cuts are unfair to agencies that use their money wisely and can't get money from other sources. The governor offered the example of the Competitive Grants program that paid $100,000 to bring German politicians to Myrtle Beach for a holiday.
Surely that is not as high a priority as funding for the state's prison system, which already has been cut to the bone. State schools Superintendent Jim Rex complains that the $73.3 million that will be cut from the Education Department's $2.4 billion budget is certain to have a "critical and negative impact on many of our educational programs."
Lawmakers still have time to rework the budget. But Leatherman is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and Cooper is chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, and both favored across-the-board cuts, which makes a return to Columbia unlikely.
Whatever the circumstances, across-the-board cuts are a cop-out, a way for lawmakers to dodge the responsibility of making the tough decisions regarding state needs. Yes, there would be winners and losers if the Legislature made targeted cuts, but some funding needs are simply more crucial than others.
Under this plan to arbitrarily cut the budgets of all agencies equally, we're all losers.
State lawmakers should return to Columbia and cut budget selectively, not across the board.
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