As the budget debate entered a second day in the South Carolina House of Representatives on Tuesday, House Republicans blocked efforts by Democrats to redirect hundreds of millions of dollars more into K-12 education and Medicaid.
Both efforts led by State Rep. James Smith, D-Columbia, failed along party lines as Republicans said South Carolina lacked enough funds to cover what Democrats were proposing.
First, Smith proposed putting an additional $537 million into public schools. His proposal would have increased the amount that South Carolina gives school districts on a per-student basis. The proposed increase would have put funding levels in line with a formula that legislators have suspended since the 2008 economic recession.
“It ought not to be the goal of this chamber to be ‘minimally adequate’ when it comes to funding education,” Smith said on the floor Tuesday. “But when it’s clear that we’re not even that, and we’re over a half-billion dollars short, I think we ought to do something to change that.”
But Republicans were critical of how Smith proposed to pay for the increase, by drawing down nearly all budget lines on a pro rata basis until the $537 million was reached. Smith admitted that he would have preferred a different method, but challenged Republicans to come up with a better plan.
State Rep. Jim Merrill, R-Charleston, said the House already included an additional $177 million for education this year in line with Gov. Nikki Haley’s proposal.
Later in the day, Republicans shot down another Smith amendment that would have allowed South Carolina to opt-in to broader Medicaid eligibility requirements that would have grown the program by over 200,000 more recipients. The House voted along party lines 75-41 to reject the amendment.
The federal government would cover the entire cost of expanding Medicaid until 2017, at which point South Carolina would need to contribute its own matching funds. That would max out at 10 percent after 2020.
Republicans say even a small match would hurt the state financially. “When you look at this expansion over a ten-year period, it would cost the state somewhere between $600 million-$1.9 billion,” State Rep. Murrell Smith, R-Sumter, told South Carolina Radio Network. “And that’s an obligation that the state of South Carolina cannot afford.”
But State Rep. Joe Neal, D-Hopkins, noted taxpayers are already paying to treat uninsured patients even without the additional Medicaid funds. “Taxpayers in South Carolina will have to pay more for those individuals who turn to emergency rooms in local hospitals for care,” he said on the House floor Tuesday.
Republicans noted they have already added nearly $300 million to Medicaid the past two years alone, due to record numbers of already-eligible South Carolinians enrolling (that includes $140 million in additional funds proposed for the 2015 budget).
“How do you think we will be able to afford (expansion)… when we can’t even afford the program as it is today?” said Rep. Tracy Edge, R-North Myrtle Beach). “That’s the reason we haven’t expanded Medicaid.”