COLUMBIA -- The state Human Affairs Commission has been virtually tossed aside by state government leaders.
The House agreed to uphold a veto by Gov. Mark Sanford that cuts the agency's $1.4 million in state funding by 42 percent, or about $585,000.
The Human Affairs Commission, which works to prevent discrimination in employment and housing, could effectively go out of business as a result of the cuts or dramatically be hindered in its ability to provide services.
Rep. Chip Limehouse, R-Charleston, said legislators were faced with tough budget decisions given the state of the economy, and the situation is expected to worsen next year when all of the federal stimulus runs out.
"We're headed for the iceberg economically," Limehouse said. "Unless somebody can strongly justify their existence, there is going to be more agencies written out of existence.
"We can only have the government that we can continue to afford. Right now, we're driving a Cadillac and we've got a used VW budget."
Human Affairs Commissioner Jesse Washington Jr. said the agency has no comment at this time.
It is unclear how many workers will be laid off as a result of the cut and whether the agency can continue to provide services.
"They have done good work, as do many other agencies of the government," Sanford said this week.
"But if you're in this kind of year, you have got to say, 'Is it that or education or health care or (law enforcement)?' Our view was, you have to cut back on areas outside of those core functions, shielding them as much as possible."
Budget cuts made this year will help soften the blow next year, he said.
State government revenues are typically slower to recover than the overall economy and the less than $5 billion budget is expected to lose about $1 billion next year when the federal stimulus runs out.
Rep. David Mack, D-North Charleston, said conservatives have been angling to do away with Human Affairs Commission and the latest budget cut may have leveled the knock-out punch.
The loss of the agency's services likely will result in more federal oversight and lawsuits based on age, sex and racial discrimination because the agency is not available to intervene, Mack said.
"People in the workforce will find they are more vulnerable, especially because South Carolina is a right to work state," he said. "We are all the worse because we don't have it."
Lonnie Randolph, president of the state conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said legislators' have made haphazard budget cuts that will be detrimental to the state's residents.
He noted that the state's Department of Consumer Affairs has also been pummeled. The agency's $1.4 million in state funding has been cut by about $677,000, or 48 percent.
"I don't expect it to be around much longer," Randolph said. "For South Carolina's 'F' rating historically and presently with race relations, it is unfortunate."
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