State Treasurer Curtis Loftis said he stands by his vote to increase state workers’ health insurance costs but is open to changing his mind – if someone can prove the vote was illegal.
The State Budget and Control Board voted 3-2 last week, with Loftis in the majority, to raise state workers’ insurance premiums by 4.6 percent, an average of $7.24 a month. The change is expected to save the state $5.8 million next year.
The vote reversed the state Legislature, which last month voted not to raise state workers’ out-of-pocket insurance costs. State employees have filed two lawsuits – including one in the state’s highest court – in an attempt to reverse the decision.
But if Loftis changes his vote, that would reverse the decision, set to take effect Jan. 1.
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“I agree with (the vote) on public policy, but I do not want to create some illegality,” Loftis said Thursday. “Good public policy can always run afoul of the law. We see that a lot with immigration. And so if, in fact, this were an illegal act and somebody could demonstrate that to me, I’d change my vote.”
Loftis said he has asked attorneys with the S.C. House and state Senate as well as the S.C. State Employees Association for their opinions. So far, he said he has not heard back. Later Thursday, Loftis’ office sent an email to The State newspaper, adding, “With each passing day, I feel more and more comfortable with our decision and its legality.”
Even if Loftis decides to change his vote, it appears unlikely he will have the chance to do so soon. A special meeting of the Budget and Control Board, not scheduled to meet again until October, would have to be called by the board’s chairwoman, Gov. Nikki Haley. Haley’s spokesman repeated Thursday the governor’s position that the vote was legal.
The budget board’s decision has prompted two lawsuits: one by USC chemistry professor Thomas A. Bryson in Richland County Court and another, by two state employee groups, before the state Supreme Court. Both suits allege the budget board does not have the authority overrule the Legislature, raising health insurance rates when legislators decided not to.
Michael Medlock, Bryson’s attorney, said Thursday he is planning to withdraw the USC professor’s lawsuit and join the Supreme Court lawsuit filed by the S.C. State Employees Association and the S.C. Education Association.
“We are joining forces,” Medlock said Thursday. “We are all asking for the same relief anyway.”
The State Employees Association plans a news conference Monday to discuss the lawsuit.