Last year the criticism of South Carolina's newly elected governor, Mark Sanford, was that he operated like a "lone wolf." That style is fine in Congress, where Sanford served for two terms, but as governor one has to lead and work with others.
As legislators convene in Columbia this week for another session, most are much impressed with the changes they've seen in the governor. They're praising him for meeting legislative leaders and for proposing a spending plan that will actually be useful for House budget writers.
Former Gov. Jim Hodges' budget blueprints were dead on arrival. The last budget Hodges proposed was $500 million out of balance. He "promised everything to everybody and made the General Assembly the bad guys" when cuts had to be made, said Senate Finance Chairman Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence.
Sanford, on the other hand, has put forth a lean, mean - but realistic - $5.1 billion balanced budget plan that deals with the state's horrendous $350 million deficit. "This is refreshing," said Rep. Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.
Sanford and the legislators attribute improved communications with the friendlier reception he's receiving. A lot of hard work went into his budget proposal, beginning with the months he and his staff spent consulting with state agencies and incorporating suggestions from his Government Efficiency and Reorganization Committee that held extensive public hearings around the state last summer and fall.
The governor's plan calls for raising $344 million, mostly by closing state agencies, cutting about 1,300 state jobs, sharply reducing phone and travel expenses and raising tens of millions of dollars by selling non-essential state property.
Yet the governor manages to increase some funding for K-12 education - though not enough according to some critics, including Inez Tenenbaum, the Democratic state school superintendent who's running for the U.S. Senate. He also pumps $140 million into Medicaid, thus replacing most of the one-time-only relief money the federal government gave to the state last year.
What most impresses about Sanford's proposal is that he has government living within its means - that it can't raise taxes or run up deficits to avoid making painful spending cuts.
Government can delay downsizing longer than a business can, but it can't do everything for everybody, and eventually it has to own up to its own limitations.
Exactly what those limitations are is what Gov. Sanford and the legislature will be working on. It won't be easy, especially in an election year, but as long as the executive and legislative branches communicate and cooperate they may well do themselves proud heading into November.