Sanford Vetoes: Voice of Reason or Showboating?

June 14, 2010

Investigative Reports

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The NerveIf history offers any indication, expect legislators to override the vast majority of Gov. Mark Sanford’s 107 budget vetoes when they take them up this week.

During his first seven years in office, Sanford issued more than 650 budget vetoes. That includes 2006, when he nixed the entire budget. Of those, a total of 573 were overridden, or nearly 88 percent.

Sanford has preached fiscal responsibility throughout his two terms in office and regularly been at odds with the General Assembly over its spending habits.

The recurring decision by many lawmakers to override Sanford’s vetoes over the past several years has contributed to the unsustainable roller coaster budgeting that has seen government spending skyrocket when times are good and dip painfully when times get tough, Sanford spokesman Ben Fox said.

Some legislators have intimated in the past that Sanford has wielded his veto as a grandstanding measure, but he says that’s not the case.

“We’ve got one heck of a financial storm coming our way next year and the fact is, you’ve got to pay for what you fund in government,” he said during a press conference last week.

Some years have been particularly difficult for Sanford in his bid to restrain government spending, such as 2007, when 228 of 243 budget vetoes were overridden; 2005, 153 of 163 overridden; and 2004, 105 of 106 overridden.

To date, the only year in which Sanford hasn’t had more of his vetoes overridden than upheld was his first. In 2003 just six of 22 budget vetoes were voted down, although parts of a seventh veto were overridden.

A look back at the past couple of decades shows that Sanford hasn’t fared well in comparison with his immediate predecessors in terms of having budget vetoes upheld.

Consider:

  • Gov. Jim Hodges, a Democrat, never vetoed more than 47 budget items in a single year, and never had more than five vetoes overridden.
  • In 1998 Gov. David Beasley, a Republican, issued zero budget vetoes; and
  • Gov. Carroll Campbell, a Republican, vetoed 277 different items in the state budget one year, but didn’t see a single one overridden.

And unlike Sanford, neither Hodges, Beasley nor Campbell had their parties in control of both the state House and Senate, as Sanford has had from Day One.

In fact, Campbell faced an entirely Democratic House and Senate; and Hodges, for his final two sessions, faced an entirely Republican Legislature.

However, Fox said he’s optimistic that legislators may be more willing this year to give Sanford’s vetoes more weight given the state’s budget crisis.

“We’re hopeful that a combination of the governor’s continued emphasis on putting South Carolina’s fiscal house in order and the devastating economic realities facing our state and nation may have indeed turned the tide this year – and that legislators will join the executive branch in identifying several difficult but necessary ways to tighten the belt this budget season given the impending billion-dollar cliff the state will face this time next year,” he said.

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