When we assess the wreckage that is our state budget, one is left in awestruck wonder at the malfeasance of the people who run this state. Yes, there is a recession, and, yes, all states are feeling the budget crunch. But it didn't have to be this bad.
In an excellent series of stories last week, The Post and Courier described the tax-cutting frenzy that set this train wreck in motion.
In 2007, at the same time Gov. Mark Sanford was congratulating the General Assembly for eliminating the residential property tax, John S. Rainey, chairman of the State Board of Economic Advisors, warned that a recession was possible and could come by the beginning of 2008. The state's spending increases and tax cuts could produce "startlingly significant deficits," he reported then.
"That was in everybody's hands in June 2007," he told the P&C. "We said, 'If you do nothing else, you'll be short $1 billion in 2010.'"
The crisis arrived two years early. For the last four months we have seen our solons scrambling to cut services to pay for these cuts. In fact, the tax cuts of 2006-2007 came to $521 million, according to the P&C, and the current budget shortfall stands at $535 million. What a coincidence!
How are these cuts likely to affect the average South Carolinian? Let's take a look at health care.
The Medical University of South Carolina has taken a 25 percent budget hit. Twenty-five percent! At MUSC, physicians' training has several sources of funding, but the College of Nursing is funded only by the legislature from the general fund.
When you go to a hospital, who do you think takes care of you? If you are lucky, you will see the doctor for 10 minutes a day. The rest of your care is in the hands of nurses, said Dr. Gail Stuart, dean of the College of Nursing. If you come out of the hospital alive, you might have a nurse to thank. Some 94,000 people a year die in American hospitals due to medical errors.
More nurses mean fewer errors. It's that simple.
"We now have statistics which prove that you have better medical outcomes when you have more nurses on a unit," Stuart said. "Also, the more time a nurse spends with a patient, the better the outcome. And the better educated a nurse, the better the outcome.
"This is not rocket science. Now we have studies to say we know this for sure."
But we will not be getting more nurses in South Carolina because our legislators and governor chose to cut taxes instead; now they are cutting the College of Nursing budget to make ends meet.
As Stuart explained, 93 percent of the operating cost of the College is personnel. There is little else to cut except faculty, and with fewer faculty there can only be fewer nursing graduates, and fewer nurses means less health care in South Carolina.
Again, it's that simple. This will not be a mere inconvenience. It will be a matter of life or death for many — perhaps for you or a member of your family.
What you see happening to our health care is happening across the board — to education, public health, and public safety. In the years to come, we will have fewer Highway Patrol officers on the road and fewer environmental enforcers. The Department of Natural Resources has already started closing field offices; the University of South Carolina may soon be closing three regional campuses. The Department of Education is taking a $253 million cut this year alone.
How will these cuts affect you? In small and unnoticeable ways, for the most part. Such changes are usually incremental. You notice them years later, when you look back and remember how good it used to be. But if you go into a hospital, the results could be immediate and dire. You could be dead.
The fact is that South Carolinians would rather have low taxes than a high quality of life. Or at least the rich would. And it was largely for them that these tax cuts were implemented — especially when it comes to the elimination of residential property taxes.
Of course, the rich can afford private nurses, private schools, private security. The rest of us, well, we will just have to get by. Few will ever understand the connection between our declining quality of life and decisions that were made in Columbia. And the people who run this state like it that way.
Check out Will Moredock's blog at www.thegoodfight.ccpblogs.com.