June 9, 2010; Source: Free Times | What happens if the BP oil spill hits the beaches and marshes of South Carolina? The state’s Department of Health and Environmental Control says it will “throw everything we have at it,” but that’s not much.

Five years ago, DHEC had 6,000 employees and a budget of $147 million; today it has 3,700 people and less than $82 million at its disposal. That’s real information that nonprofits can use to bolster their arguments to maintain state government funding. There’s also the survey that the Free Times writer cited, in which 1,121 respondents were told they could be king (or governor) for a day to run a state government facing a $1 billion shortfall.

Which functions would they be willing to cut? Department of Corrections forcing closure of prisons (18.3 percent picked this option)? Colleges and universities, compelling dramatic tuition hikes (15.3 percent)? Public schools, increasing class sizes by one-fifth (12.2 percent)? Medicaid reimbursements forcing nursing homes and hospitals to go out of business (9 percent)?

Almost half—45.2 percent—said they would be willing to raise taxes and not cut any of these services. And this is in a “conservative” state in which Sarah Palin’s endorsement of a Republican gubernatorial candidate was very persuasive.

If people want services from government and nonprofits, they have to see the choices and consequences of cuts, compared to making the decision to keep vital services flowing. This is an argument not just in favor of government funding, but in favor of the functions of the nonprofit sector.—Rick Cohen