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Originally published Friday, January 8, 2010 at 8:08 AM

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SC gov wants health care spending cuts, furlough

South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford said he'll balance the state's next budget by cutting spending on health care programs and worker pay, among other things.

Associated Press Writer

COLUMBIA, S.C. —

South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford said he'll balance the state's next budget by cutting spending on health care programs and worker pay, among other things.

"It's a severe budget year," Sanford said Thursday, noting it only gets worse next year when federal stimulus money disappears. "But this is certainly the toughest budget year that we've had to contend with in arranging our budget."

Legislators and Sanford face a huge fiscal problem already. Promises to give property tax breaks and restore money borrowed to balance last year's spending plan have helped create a $563 million hole.

Sanford proposes to help make up the difference by slashing $107 million from part of the budget that now pays for a range of Medicaid-related programs, including hospital reimbursements, breast cancer screenings, home care for the elderly and wheel chair ramps.

Federal stimulus money spared those programs from cuts in the current spending plan. The state is getting a total of $752 million in stimulus funds in the budget year that begins July 1, but they disappear beginning in December and Sanford said he'd opt to end that aid in June. "There are programs that are going to be cut, it's just a question of when," Sanford said.

Sanford also wants $131 million cut from college programs. For instance, Sanford says legislators can save $32 million with cuts to Clemson University's education and agriculture programs and $31 million with changes at the state's technical colleges. South Carolina State University loses $8.4 million, or more than 44 percent of its state funds. Sanford argues some programs should be eliminated and others consolidated.

He also wants $33.6 million cut from the Education Department, including a 10 percent reduction of the agency's Columbia staff.

State workers would also be forced to take two days off without pay, saving the state $25 million in payroll expenses. Meanwhile, Sanford said the state would save about $5.7 million by eliminating jobs for retired state employees who have returned to work.

Elsewhere, Sanford proposes doing away with all or most state spending on some agencies. For instance, the South Carolina Arts Commission would lose its entire $2.5 million state allocation and the State Museum would lose all of its $3.2 million.

Last year, Sanford took the legislature to state and federal court in an effort to block using federal stimulus money to pay for programs and services. He argued unsuccessfully that the money should instead be used to offset state debt. That wasn't an issue this year.

"We fought and we lost on that. And so we spend the stimulus money," Sanford said. "I'm not going to fight yesterday's battle."

Sanford called Thursday's spending plan his last, but then said he'd write one more before leaving office in January 2011. If "some of these have been doorstops, that's the ultimate in doorstop" because a new governor will be taking over.

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