"There is nothing that works as well in life as a deadline. Deadlines matter," he said. "We think a worthy goal on this front would be to say, we ought to deal with it before the election."
Legislative leaders agreed the General Assembly should return to make targeted cuts, but not without a detailed budget plan worked out between them and the governor.
"We don't want to come back and sit in that chamber day after day, week after week, while we're trying to get a consensus and get together a revised budget," said Senate Finance Chairman Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence.
A special session called by the governor would cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars a day because legislators would be paid additional salary for the year. If legislators returned on their own, they would not get that extra salary.
Mr. Sanford repeatedly has called on the Legislature to make targeted cuts to deal with declining state revenue. Last month, the five-member state budget board on which he sits ordered all state agencies to cut their budgets by 3 percent, despite his objections.
He likened the mandate to a homeowner who equally cuts how much he spends on his mortgage and movies, rather than prioritizing in tough times.
Legislative leaders argued that the Budget and Control Board can legally make only across-the-board cuts, and a measure they passed before adjourning in June lets the members come back only after projected revenues decline by 4 percent.
The board initially said the 3 percent cuts -- totaling $188 million -- should hold until lawmakers come back in January. But last week, the state's economic advisers said deeper cuts will be needed.
The Board of Economic Advisors is expected next month to reduce projections by at least 4 percent, which would reduce the state's $7 billion budget by more than $250 million.
House Speaker Bobby Harrell said the Republican governor and GOP-controlled Legislature, which are often at odds, need to work together.