Monday, January 19, 2009

Watch for 15 Percent Cuts Statewide

In years past, the first week of session was about getting reacquainted with legislative colleagues and friends, as well as viewing legislation in the hopper which I might not have seen. Not so this year. We jumped right into the necessities of making the state government match up to our new economic realities. It was a trying and stressful week.

Being on Ways and Means, the stark realities of this economy come into sharp focus right away. It is no exaggeration to say that the state government will shrink a minimum of 15% this year. This is a profound and painful development. However, many of the business people around the Lowcountry are telling me that business is down, in some cases, twice that much, or more.

Of course it is necessary we cut our state budget to fit our revenues. It would be easier to simply take 15% across the board and be done with it. This is the chainsaw approach. It is also the lazy and irresponsible approach. In fact, the responsible way to manage the reductions is to view each proposed cut, and do a rational cost/benefit analysis. It is time consuming and painstaking work, but anything less is a betrayal of the trust that you have placed with us as lawmakers.

For example, we were tasked with reducing the state portion of the Medicaid match. One of the cuts was to the Hospice benefit. At the sub-committee level we met with Health and Human Services to get a proper read on this matter. As it turns out, the potential saving was negligible, while the consequences to those in need of Hospice services who might not qualify for Medicare or did not have private insurance was catastrophic. It would also be catastrophic for the hospitals that might ultimately have to provide end-of-life care for these folks. The costs in public dollars would also increase by a factor of 20 to 30 times. Your representative and others in the Beaufort County delegation fought for Hospice and prevailed, at least in the House.

One of the positive features of this financial downturn is the apparent lessening of gratuitous partisanship in the General Assembly. There will always be legitimate disagreements between the Majority and Minority parties, which is as it should be. However, much of the silliness we have seen in recent years past has been replaced with a seriousness of mission and what looks to most observers like cooperation between the parties. I don’t want to get too carried away with this, as the session is young and there will be plenty of opportunities for partisan mischief on both sides of the aisle.

One more bit of good news: my friend and colleague, Rep. Shannon Erickson of Beaufort, has been brought on as a whip in the caucus organization. Also, after six years as a whip, your representative is now Chief Majority Whip. This is particularly important as this puts me on the Executive Committee for the House, which formulates legislative directions and procedures that play a big role in managing the work flow of the chamber.

This week, the house is on furlough. Many of our Democratic friends wished to attend the Obama inauguration. As for me, I’ll be back home in Bluffton, doing my best to keep warm.