Originally created 01/25/03

Sanford's speech light on prescription, promises



COLUMBIA, S.C. -- A week after his inauguration, Gov. Mark Sanford's agenda and actions provoked criticism from a handful of legislators who could be key to getting his proposals through the Legislature.

Lawmakers have been looking for Sanford to tell them how he'd like the state's budget problems handled.

In Wednesday's State of the State address peppered with 20 "I would say" or "I'd say" phrases, Sanford offered no concrete ways the state could deal with the current year's budget problems and little guidance on the $1 billion crisis overhanging next year's $5 billion spending plan.

The clearest cost-cutting proposal in his speech involved getting rid of agency lobbyists who cost the state $1.9 million a year. He also said legislators should lower the state's blood-alcohol standard in drunken driving cases to 0.08 percent from 0.10 percent, sparing the state the threatened loss of $60 million in federal highway funds.

Closer to his new home, Sanford told lawmakers he saved money already in his budget by eliminating the $80,000-a-year director's position at the Governor's Mansion.

"If every agency across South Carolina did that, just looked for one function they thought they could do without, we can go a long way toward closing the budget divide that is in fact before us," Sanford said in his speech.

Instead of offering hope to some lawmakers that he would allow an increase in the state's cigarette tax, Sanford tied any increase to fundamental changes in the state's Medicaid programs and a corresponding tax decrease, possibly the income tax.

"It's a courageous stand to say, 'We're not going to raise taxes,"' said House Majority Leader Rick Quinn, R-Columbia. Sanford and Quinn, along with 65 legislators, signed no-tax-increase pledges from Americans for Tax Reform.

Sanford mentioned "money" or "dollars" 16 times in his address, which was heavy on restructuring government and consolidating power in the governor's office. But he offered no insight into what taxpayers could save or gain - other than accountability - if the Legislature gave his office more authority.

Sanford said before the speech that it would lack details of financial benefits of restructuring. Instead, he said, it would be a speech about "how do you deal with trying to advance change in this kind of budget year."

"It's a good government, management type of approach," said Francis Marion University political science professor Neal Thigpen.

That approach extended to eliminating most statewide elected offices and consolidating their operations under the governor.

"Where he's going to run into trouble is he isn't going to be able to do away with those elected positions," Thigpen said. "I don't give him much hope in that at all." Sanford may have better luck in consolidating some agencies and functions, he said.

Calling the budget a "giant dragon," Sanford offered only a few ways to slay it. It's unlikely those proposals would influence the 2004 budget, which takes effect July 1.

He told legislators that:

- Governors should be required to submit a balanced budget. Last year, Hodges' budget was roundly criticized for being unbalanced because it relied on tapping $212 million in reserve funds that were largely inaccessible while trusting the state Budget and Control Board to find $150 million in cuts.

- Changes are needed at the Board of Economic Advisors, which forecasts state revenue, saying "the system is gamed" and influenced by politics. The Republican governor will appoint the board's chairman, and Sanford's nominee to head the Revenue Department, Burnet Maybank, will have a nonvoting voice on that board. The two other voting members are appointed by House and Senate finance leaders, both Republicans.

- Further state government growth caps, tied to inflation and population growth, are needed. That move could prevent rapid increases in state spending as the economy recovers and the state's coffers swell.

- He wants structural reforms in the state's budgeting process, including two-year budgets, a six-year financial plan and 10-year capital spending priorities.

- Budget writers should not be allowed to use surpluses that can't be counted on from year to year to pay for ongoing programs.

- Creating a commission that will review state spending beginning after Memorial Day - about the time the Legislature is adjourning.

"It was really a management chitchat," Thigpen said.