Here's the full internal DHEC memo that I referred to in my Sunday column. Commissioner Earl Hunter sent it on Friday, Jan. 16. I got it second or third-hand, and consequently copied and sent it to DHEC spokesman Thom Berry to check its authenticity. Unfortunately, he was traveling and couldn't get to his e-mail. So I read portions of it to him on the phone, and he said he recognized it as a message Mr. Hunter had sent the previous Friday:
Let me begin by saying that I sincerely appreciate the positive way you have handled the budget balancing steps we've had to take to keep our agency afloat. And I especially appreciate the way you've continued to do your jobs with a sense of purpose and an emphasis on customer service. It's a testament to each and every one of you.
Announcing furloughs just prior to the holidays was one of the most difficult tasks I have faced as Commissioner. I know all the members of the Executive Management Team feel the same way. I heard from many of you. The majority, very positive. A few, very negative. Please know that I understand and can appreciate both reactions.
Recently, however, I have learned of several unfounded rumors floating around that I am sure have caused concerns among many of you. One such rumor that I've been made aware of is that "an additional five or ten days of furloughs are forthcoming." I have also been told that some are saying that "the decision was made weeks ago" and that we are just delaying announcing this until the "right time." I ask that you pay no attention to these rumors. They are just that…rumors…unfounded and untrue. Although allowed by law to implement up to 10 days during the year, no additional plans for furloughs have been or are being discussed. If no additional budget cuts happen this fiscal year, it is my sincere hope and the current plan of EMT that no additional furloughs will be necessary this fiscal year
On the budget front, the Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) met yesterday in Columbia. According to news reports, collections for the months of October and November were actually ahead of revised projections by $30 million. Although $30 million in relation to the overall annual state budget is not a lot of money, it may be a sign that additional revisions downward of collection estimates may not be necessary. We hope that equates to no additional cuts for the remainder of this fiscal year, which ends June 30, 2009. The BEA will meet in February to review collections data for the holiday shopping season.
On another note, several stories have been reported in The State newspaper and other media outlets recently regarding our agency being placed in the Governor's cabinet. Two business organizations, the SC Chamber of Commerce and the SC Manufacturers Alliance were reported as being supportive. Information I have received from both of those organizations contradicts those stories. Both may be coming out with formal statements of clarification soon. In addition, an article this week reported that our board chairman was also supportive. Chairman Aughtry has e-mailed and called me to let me know and let you know that he was misquoted. His statement to the media was simply that he felt that any change that would take politics out of the equation is worthy of consideration. He also let the reporter know that he was 100% supportive of the agency and its staff. As usual, however, that statement wasnt included in the report.
In closing, I ask that you all try to keep a positive attitude during these difficult time, and that you please not allow yourselves to be distracted by the media. We will be appearing before our House Ways and Means Budget Subcommittee next Thursday morning regarding next fiscal years budget, and plan to lay out for the members the effects of all three cuts our agency has taken thus far, as well as what further cuts would do and what our most pressing needs are — both for our agency and the people of this state I will provide another update once that has concluded. Take care And thank you again for all that you do.