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The Associated Press November 24, 2010, 2:08PM ET

Top SC budget writer will help crisis panel's work

The top budget writer in the South Carolina House said Wednesday he's spoken with Gov.-elect Nikki Haley and will help her fiscal crisis panel devise ways to put the state budget on track.

"I think we're going to work together on that," said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dan Cooper, a Piedmont Republican. "That's a positive step."

"I get a sense that there's going to be a real effort on the part of the governor-elect to reach out to the General Assembly, said George Schroeder, the retired state auditing expert running the task force.

Cooper's staff and committee write the first legislative draft of the budget and Haley's proposals to trim a shortfall that could top $800 million would be incorporated there or later on the House floor. South Carolina's general fund budget has shrunk from nearly $7 billion three years ago to $5 billion and the projected shortfalls are expected to carve into school and health care programs.

For instance, Cooper said last week he's considering changes to state law that would shorten public school calendars by 10 classroom days. Trimming the calendar to 170 days could save the state $210 million.

Haley rolled out the crisis task force nearly two weeks ago. The panel has been meeting quietly with staff from the comptroller general's office and the Legislative Audit Council.

It's also relying on the South Carolina Policy Council, a conservative group critical of government spending, for staff support, said Schroeder, the Audit Council's retired executive director.

The group, which has held no public meetings, is still trying to determine how big the state's budget deficit may be, Schroeder said.

"It's quite a challenge, but I think we're making progress," Schroeder said.

While the group is expected to come up with details of where to cut spending, it won't be talking about ways to raise money.

"We're pretty much trying to look at savings as opposed to any kind of revenue," Schroeder said.

There will be no discussion of proposals expected to be finalized next month on reshaping the state's tax structure by lowering some taxes and raising others, Schroeder said. "That's somebody else's issue," Schroeder said.

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