COLUMBIA -- Unresolved budget issues left to linger for nearly a year at the state's Medicaid agency are reason enough for some lawmakers to argue that South Carolina's powerful legislative branch needs even more authority.
Sen. Jake Knotts, R-West Columbia, said about two months of testimony into the reasons why the state Department of Health and Human Services has a $225 million deficit this year led him to the conclusion that lawmakers need more oversight on state government operations.
Knotts is leading a subcommittee that took testimony Thursday from Scott English, who was the top aide for former Gov. Mark Sanford. English is now chief of staff for the state Department of Education.
English said the Medicaid agency couldn't get an accurate picture of its budget needs because of a new accounting system in 2010. That led to the agency to base its budget requests on a 5 percent growth rate in the program, although it was actually growing about twice that fast. The budget situation was complicated by other matters, such as uncertainty over whether the state would receive certain federal funds.
English's comments came after Sanford's former Medicaid Director Emma Forkner appeared before the subcommittee. After her testimony, one senator concluded that Sanford directed Forkner to mislead lawmakers about the true costs of running her agency.
English's testimony disputed that conclusion. He said Sanford's administration told Forkner to let lawmakers know as soon as possible that the Medicaid program was going to be more expensive to operate than originally projected.
Throughout 2010, the governor's staff worked with the agency to find ways to cut costs, English said. And, he said, warning bells were sounded for months over the agency's budget woes.
"They did their dead-level best to inform everybody about it," English said of the agency officials.
Knotts said the goal of the hearings is to understand how to avoid a similar situation in the future. And Knotts said other agencies are already paying attention. The state Human Affairs Commission, Department of Consumer Affairs and School for the Deaf and Blind all issued early warnings that they could run out of money.
Knotts met with budget officials Thursday to discuss a $5.4 million deficit at the School for the Deaf and Blind, a $360,000 deficit at the Human Affairs Commission and $290,000 deficit at Consumer Affairs.
The subcommittee is expected to hold more meetings on the matter before issuing findings. Meanwhile, the Legislative Audit Council has been tapped to provide an independent review of the Medicaid agency.