Haley picks Tom Davis for budget task force

COLUMBIA -- Gov.-elect Nikki Haley selected state Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, and four others for a new fiscal crisis task force charged with finding ways to deal with a looming state budget crisis that could top $1 billion.

Haley announced the group Monday and said she's worked since the election to get a handle on the state's problems.

"And part of that is understanding that we are going into what is going to be the worst budget year that the state has seen," Haley said. "We have to make sure that we are in front of the crisis as opposed to being behind it."

Estimates show the state's $5 billion budget is facing a $1 billion hole in July and already short more than $270 million for the current fiscal year. The state's budget was $7 billion three years ago.

Davis, a real-estate attorney who was Gov. Mark Sanford's chief of staff, said his experience putting together budgets for Sanford and creating an alternative budget with Sen. Greg Ryberg in 2009 likely caught Haley's eye.

Davis said the task force will "take a long, hard look at what state agencies are doing," ask what services those groups should be providing, and identify opportunities for savings and consolidation.

"We're going to hit the ground running on Tuesday, meeting with the Legislative Audit Council to see where savings could be had," Davis said. "The one thing we're not going to do to close that $1 billion gap is we're not going to raise taxes."

Haley also tapped George Schroeder, the former director of the state's Legislative Audit Council; U.S. Rep. Henry Brown, a Republican leaving office in January and who was a former state House budget committee chairman; Ashley Landess, chief executive of the conservative S.C. Policy Council, and state Rep. Nathan Ballentine of Irmo.

The task force is expected to come up with ideas before Haley takes office in January.

"No one has ever said this isn't going to hurt. I think we have to be realistic with the people of South Carolina that this is going to hurt," Haley said.

State agencies are carrying thousands of open positions and have curtailed workweeks for state employees for more than a year. Haley also set up a website, www.scbudgetcrisis.org, for citizens and state workers to report fraud and waste.

The state Department of Health and Human Services said last week that it would have to stop payments to doctors taking Medicaid for the state's elderly, disabled and poor unless the state approves plans to run a $228 million deficit in the current fiscal year.