Originally created 05/20/05

Sanford reruns vetoes

It looks like deja vu all over again in South Carolina.

Just as he did last year, Gov. Mark Sanford has laced the General Assembly's budget with more than 100 vetoes - 149 to be precise, 43 more than last year. And legislators probably are gearing up to beat back most of them just as they did last year, when only one of the governor's 106 vetoes survived the House's override votes.

Whether the governor will rerun his 2004 pig show remains to be seen. Recall that after the House's override votes last spring, Sanford angered lawmakers by showing up at the House chambers with two squealing pigs to dramatize his opposition to pork-barrel spending.

Despite the brouhaha, Sanford's vetoes amounted to only 1.6 percent of the budget last year as, in fact, they do again this year - $96 million cut from the assembly's state budget of $5.8 billion.

The governor even had kind words for large parts of the budget, praising lawmakers' outlays on the public school system, Medicaid and law enforcement. Sanford made a point of saying that his cuts have little to do with the merits of individual programs, but are designed to reflect "the principle of first things first."

To the governor, the "first thing" after funding core programs is to replenish trust funds of $117 million depleted during the recent economic downturn. Also, Sanford is fundamentally opposed to growing spending by more than the revenue income. He says spending growth in the legislature's budget is 9 percent; his vetoes cut it back to 7.5 percent.

The feuding and fussing between the governor and lawmakers in the Palmetto State is fascinating to political observers because both branches are controlled by Republicans. If Sanford runs for re-election next year, as expected, will he run against the GOP-led Legislature? And will GOP lawmakers run against Sanford's record as governor?

Not likely. Sanford won't run against other Republicans - he'll run on a platform to reform, and improve, state government. GOP lawmakers won't run against the governor; they will run to preserve legislative supremacy in the state.

This is where the real problem lies. It's not a traditional partisan political tug-of-war; it's a power struggle between the executive and legislative branches of government. When the Legislature holds most of the budget cards, legislators run for office based in good measure on how much state money they can bring home. This encourages pork- barrel spending.

Moreover, there's very little statewide perspective in a legislative budget, and that's what Sanford is trying to bring to the process - a budget and spending program for the entire state. Sanford is still very popular - so his supporters, if they want a smaller, more efficient government, need to let lawmakers know in the months ahead that they support his vision of a stronger gubernatorial policy-making role.


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