For the second consecutive month, the S.C. Budget and Control Board has delayed a decision regarding requests from three cabinet agencies to run a combined deficit of $264 million during the current fiscal year (2010-11).

Obviously, that red ink doesn’t include the estimated $1 billion shortfall faced by the government during the coming fiscal year (2011-12).

On Thursday, the five members of the newly reconfigured board – Gov. Nikki Haley, Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom, Treasurer Curtis Loftis, Senate Finance Chairman Hugh Leatherman and House Ways and Means Chairman Danny Cooper – declined to address the deficits.

Way to take charge, guys …

In fact Haley – seemingly oblivious to the state’s dire financial straits – doled out huge pay raises to incoming members of her gubernatorial staff.

As we’ve noted previously, there is no excuse for state government agencies to be running deficits this year – not when taxpayers are shelling out a record $20.8 billion (at least) on state government. And not when S.C. lawmakers just raised the cigarette tax to dump more money into the black hole of government health care.

While all three agencies (the S.C. Department of Health and Human Services, S.C. Department of Social Services and S.C. Department of Corrections) belong to the governor’s cabinet, we’re told that the deficits they have incurred stem from too much legislative meddling. After all, the S.C. General Assembly is not only responsible for setting all cabinet agency budgets, but it frequently directs spending within the cabinet by using budget provisos (yet another way governors in South Carolina are prevented from running their own branch of government).

Case in point? The S.C. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) – which is asking to run a $228 million deficit.

Under Sanford, DHHS attempted to make cuts in 2008 – but lawmakers blocked those efforts. Lawmakers have also refused to let DHHS cut provider rates – making South Carolina the only state in the nation operating under this restriction.

On top of that, lawmakers have taken at least $500 million from the DHHS budget over the last three years – spreading that money around to other state agencies.

So … what do we think should be done with these deficit requests?

That’s easy … they should be denied. If lawmakers didn’t adequately fund a core function of government (i.e. Corrections) or raided an agency (i.e. DHHS) to pay for spending elsewhere in government, then lawmakers should be required to deal with the consequences of their actions.

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