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The news that several South Carolina agencies are asking for permission to run deficits is understandably quite shocking … particularly considering that lawmakers passed the largest budget in state history less than six months ago.

Seriously, you would think that an already over-sized government could figure out a way to fund core functions with record amounts of taxpayer funding … right?

Nonetheless three agencies, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Department of Social Services (DSS) and Department of  Corrections have asked the S.C. Budget and Control Board for permission to run a combined deficit of $264 million.

The deficit at the Department of Corrections we can understand … it’s $7 million … and it’s being requested by an agency that has been chronically underfunded for the last decade.

The deficit at Health and Human Services is another story, though …

After all, didn’t S.C. lawmakers just raise the cigarette tax to fund Medicaid? Are we really to believe that this black hole already needs another infusion of cash?

Apparently so … $228 million, to be precise.

Unlike the federal government, South Carolina is constitutionally-prohibited from running a deficit – although that hasn’t stopped lawmakers from doing so. Last year state government was $100 million in the red, for example …

As painful as it may be, we don’t believe that any state agency should be permitted to run a deficit. That’s why we would encourage the S.C. Budget and Control Board to deny these requests.

If lawmakers believe that prisons, welfare checks and health care for the poor are core functions of government (we’re with them on the first count), then they should fund those priorities and identify savings elsewhere.

Deficit spending isn’t going to help anybody …

UPDATE: At its meeting on Tuesday, the Budget and Control Board deferred action on these agency requests until next year. That means Gov.-elect Nikki Haley and Treasurer-elect Curtis Loftis will be on the Board when it ultimately decides the issue.

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