More Than 50 Budget Vetoes Upheld by House

June 21, 2010

Investigative Reports

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The NerveThe S.C. House sustained 51 of Gov. Mark Sanford’s 107 budget vetoes last week, a record for the Sanford administration, which had 88 percent of its budget vetoes overridden during its first seven legislative sessions.

The 51 vetoes, the most sustained since the Carroll Campbell administration, could result in savings of as much as $261 million, no small amount given the state’s dire financial condition.

South Carolina’s general fund budget has been cut by more than $2 billion over the past two years because of falling tax collections related to the economic downturn. Twice this year the Budget and Control Board has had to make general fund cuts, totaling nearly $439 million.

In addition, the pending budget for 2010-11 includes at least $500 million in federal stimulus money. That cash will be gone by this time next year and state tax collections aren’t expected to recover fast enough from the recession to offset that loss.

While the House finished voting on Sanford’s vetoes last week, the Senate still has a small number to consider when it comes back into session on June 29.

The vetoes represent “an unprecedented level of sustained budget vetoes and an encouraging commitment by many lawmakers to a more fiscally responsible path for our state,” Sanford said.

There were detractors, however, who questioned the wisdom of significant cuts to agencies such as the Budget and Control Board and the S.C. Department of Consumer Affairs, along with funding for cultural amenities such as the S.C. State Museum and the S.C. Confederate Relic Room & Military Museum.

Rep. James Smith, D-Richland, blamed a share of the state’s budget woes on a “total abject failure of leadership that begins with the governor.”

“Our state’s budget situation is dire, but it didn’t have to be as bad as it is,” Smith told The Nerve. “However, that would have required leadership. It would have required a plan. It would have required bringing people together and the governor has done none of that.

“He should have brought the parties together to make things happen instead of sitting on his rear end and thinking his veto pen was going to make it happen,” Smith added.

Key vetoes upheld included:

  • The more than $25 million in state general fund appropriations that would have gone to the Budget and Control Board. Sanford’s reasoning for the veto: “The Board has over $1 billion in carry-forward funds, including approximately $60 million in unrestricted accounts. Additionally, the Board receives a total of $223,648,033 in other funds that it receives from state agencies in the form of rent, fees and other charges.”
  • Nearly $560,000 allocated to the University of South Carolina for hydrogen fuel cell research. According to the governor’s veto message, USC has relied too heavily on state dollars to fund hydrogen research rather than recruit private investment. The school has received ample funding to sufficiently jumpstart its hydrogen fuel cell research over the past few years, and it’s time to translate those dollars into privately funded research that will truly create permanent, private-sector jobs rather than more government jobs paid for by South Carolina taxpayers.
  • Nearly $560,000 for the University of South Carolina for nanotechnology research. Sanford’s veto message says that public money put toward such research should be matched with significant private investment, but that has yet to happen.
  • More than $675,000 for the Department of Consumer Affairs. The governor’s veto message stated that while Consumer Affairs did important work, many of its functions were concurrently performed by the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, the state Attorney General, and several federal consumer protection agencies.
  • Some $75,000 to Clemson University Public Service Activities for its Spring Dairy Exhibition. The needs of education and health care outweigh those of the dairy industry during this tight budget year, Sanford wrote in his veto message.

Also sustained was the veto on the last part of the state budget, which relates to $213.5 million in federal funding, called enhanced Federal Medical Assistance Percentage, or FMAP.

That money is contingent upon Congress passing, and President Obama approving, a six-month renewal of extra Medicaid funding for the states. There’s no guarantee that the renewal will happen, and Sanford was uncomfortable balancing the state budget on the hope of congressional action. Hence, his veto.

House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, told The State newspaper that given South Carolina’s financial condition, many lawmakers felt they had no choice but to sustain many of Sanford’s vetoes.

“The issue is we don’t have the revenue (to continue existing services) without raising taxes, and the people of this state insist they don’t want higher taxes, and neither do the Republicans,” Harrell said.

Others compared the vetoes to an impending disaster.

“The train is on the track, and the crash is coming,” Rep. Ken Kennedy, D-Williamsburg, told The State.

Reach Dietrich at (803) 779-5022, ext. 110, or at kevin@scpolicycouncil.com.