Another suit seeks to overturn insurance cost hike

08/16/2012 12:00 AM

08/17/2012 9:14 AM

State workers have filed a second lawsuit in an attempt to not pay more for their health insurance – this time raising constitutional questions in a dispute that pits the state Legislature against Gov. Nikki Haley.

The S.C. Education Association and the S.C. State Employees Association asked the state Supreme Court to overturn the State Budget and Control Board’s decision to raise health insurance costs for state workers. The court is not required to hear the case.

The budget board voted 3-2, at the request of Gov. Nikki Haley, to raise the premiums that state workers pay for their health insurance by 4.6 percent. The move will save the state $5.8 million but cost the average state employee or retiree an extra $7.24 a month. The move overruled the state Legislature, which voted last month not to raise the costs paid by state workers.

A USC chemistry professor filed a lawsuit Monday in Richland County court to stop the increase. In its suit, the S.C. Education Association accused Haley of timing the increase to give the GOP governor something to brag about during her upcoming speech at the Republican National Convention.

“The governor has raised her profile and strengthened her credentials with radical conservatives,” said Jackie Hicks, president of the Education Association. “That she pushes her own career at the expense of hard-working, low-paid teachers is reprehensible.”

Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey responded, “All we’ve asked is that state employees share in the cost of their health insurance spike with the taxpayers of this state – there’s nothing unreasonable, unwarranted, or political about it.”

Haley and others have argued that, while the General Assembly set aside money to pay for 100 percent of the health insurance increase, lawmakers did not pass an accompanying law – called a budget proviso – requiring the money be spent.

The lawsuit filed Wednesday rejects that argument, saying, “The General Assembly did not and cannot delegate authority ... to modify or reject duly enacted appropriations.”

“(Haley and others) apparently contend that the adopted budget is not controlling, but more of a ‘guideline’ that can be disregarded or modified to suit their own political agendas,” attorney W. Allen Nickels III wrote in his petition before the Supreme Court. “Clearly, neither an administrative body nor elected official can veto or reject a public appropriation enacted by the General Assembly.”

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