The Palmetto Insider

The blog of the South Carolina Policy Council

Lawmakers Afraid to Override Governor’s Vetoes? … Hardly

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Are lawmakers afraid to override the governor’s budget vetoes? That, at least, is the message one gets from reading Cindi Scoppe’s latest editorial. Apparently, the cause is a “tea party tsunami” being ridden by the presumptive gubernatorial favorite, Nikki Haley. According to Scoppe, legislators need to overcome their fears and override the governor’s vetoes.

Let’s take a look at her reasons:

Not doing so “would be irresponsible at best.” A moral failing, in other words. Or, to use, Brad Warthen’s even more righteous plea, legislators must overcome the “fear to do the right thing.” Odd language considering that one veto the House had no problem overriding yesterday was an ethics disclosure bill (H 4542) that includes the governor – but not legislators.

State agencies would suffer “serious damage” if the governor’s vetoes are allowed to stand. This is “because [of] all the cuts state agencies have sustained.” What cuts? This year’s budget is the largest in state history.

Granted, General Fund spending is down, but Other Funds and Federal Fund revenue is way up, accounting for 37 percent and 39 percent of the total budget, respectively.

Rick Brundrett’s analysis of the governor’s vetoes ably dispatches Scoppe’s arguments – anticipating many of them on a point-by-point basis. As Brundrett notes, 10 agencies (including the House and Senate themselves) are in line for budget increases. These agencies account for many core functions of government and include the Department of Public Safety, the Judicial Department, and the Department of Social Services, as well as 10 public colleges and universities.

Scoppe mentions, in particular, the State Museum and the Budget & Control Board (BCB) as two agencies that would be “damaged” by the governor’s vetoes. (Never mind that the museum wants more money for a questionable new expansion project.) The governor is asking for a cut of $1.64 million from the museum’s operating budget. But consider that legislators are also docking the State Museum $ 1.8 million (proviso 31.11) in rent payments to the BCB. Eliminate the rent payments and the museum can easily make up its operating budget. As for the BCB, the governor pointed out that they are currently sitting on $1 billion in carry-forward funds, including about $60 million in unrestricted accounts.

Moreover, the budget permits agencies to supplement General Fund cuts with Other Funds revenue. Thus, proviso 89.87 authorizes agencies to use earmarked/restricted accounts funded with fine and fee revenue to increase spending to FY08-2009 levels (i.e., $6.736 billion). That’s a potential increase of $1.621 billion.

Finally, Scoppe questions the governor’s “insidious … repeated implication that by vetoing what he considers frills, he will cause the money to be spent on ‘core services’ of government.” Here, Scoppe might have a point, if it were actually true, that any of the governor’s vetoes would reduce core government services. But that’s not the case, as demonstrated above.

No doubt, Scoppe is right that the Legislature should implement strategic, targeted cuts. But this point ignores the fact that lawmakers have purposely crafted the budget so as to prevent making such cuts.  For example, they are appropriating federal FMAP dollars to fund health services and agency operating expenses. It’s the old strategy of complaining about cuts for the elderly and the blind, while using the money to fund wasteful and ineffective programs, like hydrogen and Innovista.

If the Legislature were truly afraid of the “tea party tsunami,” they wouldn’t have included these items in the budget in the first place, or approved a budget that increases spending at record levels while again neglecting to pass commonsense reforms, such as an effective spending cap, zero-based budgeting and indexing tax brackets for inflation. They also wouldn’t have voted themselves a $4 million-plus agency pay raise.

Thus, regardless of what happens with the governor’s vetoes, Scoppe will likely get her wish for a tax increase. (Already, hidden taxes from fines and fees are on the rise.) Increasing taxes, though, won’t lead to more responsible budgeting … just more waste, higher business costs and a lower standing of living for South Carolinians. We truly wish lawmakers were afraid of these consequences, but clearly they are not.


Written by Jameson Taylor

June 16, 2010 at 10:46 am

2 Responses

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  1. […] 1)      Veto 1: The governor argued here that two nonmandatory student assessment programs administered by the Department of Education duplicate assessment tools currently in use. The veto was initially sustained by a vote of 70 to 48; and then overridden by a vote of 78 to 33. This was the first budget veto taken up by the House. Subsequently, the chamber sustained all but 1 of the governor’s first 13 vetoes, perhaps seeming to bolster observations that legislators are running scared. […]

  2. […] Lawmakers Afraid to Override Governor's Vetoes? … Hardly « The … […]

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