Haley missed chance to change spending plan

info@islandpacket.comAugust 22, 2012 

It might be a good policy for state workers to pay a share of their health insurance rate increase.

But lawmakers voted to pick up the tab and budgeted the money to pay for it, part of a compromise on state employee compensation that included the first pay raise in five years for the employees and an increase in the amount they must pay into the state retirement system.

The state Budget and Control Board's stepping in now to change the deal hardly seems right. And unfortunately, taxpayers will have to pay to find out in court whether the board's 3-2 vote was legal. The two legislators on the board, not surprisingly, objected.

Gov. Nikki Haley had other opportunities to make her case for her position. She didn't convince lawmakers as the budget was being written and voted on. And she didn't veto the rate increase funding when she had the chance.

Her argument on the veto is that -- if successful -- it would have eliminated all funding for the rate increase, leaving employees to pay 100 percent of the cost.

True, but had the veto failed, she also might have undercut her case for a Budget and Control board move to get employees to pay, too.

Her other arguments also seem to be on less-than-firm legal ground -- that the Budget and Control Board is stepping into the shoes of a newly created but not-yet appointed Public Employee Benefits Authority, given the ability to adjust rates subject toBudget and Control Board approval, and that the legislature didn't specifically spell out that all of the money budgeted for the insurance rate increase had to be spent.

Those challenging the decision in court say the budget board didn't have the authority to make the changes under the new law. And even if it did, there was no need because the legislature had fully funded the rate increase.

Last year, the legislature didn't fully fund the cost of state employees' health insurance, and the budget board raised employees' rates to pay for it.

Lawmakers also don't write a specific provision for every item in the budget; their intent in this case is clear.

The state Supreme Court has ruled before that the authority to appropriate money lies with the legislature as spelled out in the state constitution; the governor is charged with executing the law.

In 2009, the court told then Gov. Mark Sanford that he had to apply for federal stimulus money because lawmakers had appropriated the money and had overridden Sanford's vetoes of the sections of the budget dealing with that spending.

The issue is not whether state employees should pay, saving the state $5.8 million, but whether the Budget and Control Board has the authority to undo what the legislature has voted to do.

When it comes to spending money properly appropriated under the law in a budget signed by the governor, the answer should be "no."

Haley didn't make her case when she had the chance; she shouldn't get a second bite at that apple.

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