Speaker questions reasons behind economy vetoes
As lawmakers return to the Columbia next week to take up vetoes and finish the last bit of work for the 117th General Assembly, I cannot help but be frustrated by the need for this extra session.
We were able to finish work on many bills to improve our state. Some of the accomplishments made during the 2007-2008 legislative session were:
Workers Comp Reform, DOT Reform, record-breaking $221 million tax cut, Jasper port legislation, LIFE and Palmetto Fellows scholarships enhancements, Virtual Schools, keeping 1,100 high-paying jobs at Lockheed Martin from leaving our state, DUI reform, the strongest-in-the-nation illegal immigration reform bill, eliminating the PACT test, hidden earmark spending reform, fire sprinkler bill, small business health care collaborative bill, fully funding education and health care during a tight budget year.
However, some of those accomplishments only became law after a legislative override of a veto. Evidently, saving 1,100 jobs, enhancing scholarships to grow our knowledge-based economy, and incentivizing the installation of life-saving fire sprinklers are just some of the items the governor believed were harmful pursuits for our state and were deserving of his veto pen.
General Assembly members worked very hard to pass many key bills during our regular session. However, taking into account the governor's history with vetoes, both bodies agreed to come back because members believed that major economic development legislation would be vetoed.
Many times in the past, this General Assembly has been forced to defend its support of economic development by overriding vetoes on many good pieces of legislation.
For example, Michelin — one of our state's largest employers — recently announced a $440 million expansion that will result in over 100 new jobs, protect thousands of current jobs, and generate an additional $30 million in property taxes for local government. But the jobs created, and the current jobs protected, by this major expansion would have never happened if the governor's veto of this economic development legislation not been overridden.
The Venture Capital Investment, Life Sciences and Research University Infrastructure Acts were all major steps we took to move our state toward a strong knowledge-based economy. These acts encouraged our research universities to work with private industry to develop cutting-edge technology that businesses could use to create jobs. Overriding these vetoes was critical for us to continue growing this segment of our economy.
To spur business expansion and the creation of new jobs, the Legislature passed the South Carolina Economic Development Incentive Act of 2006. This bill encouraged companies to locate headquarters here and incentivized expanded use of our ports. But once again, a veto override was needed for these job-creating efforts to become law.
With oil prices continuing to soar, our state has stepped up to deal with our over-dependency on foreign oil and grow new industries for our state in the process. However, the Energy Freedom Act, Alternative Fuels and Fuel Efficiency Act, the Hydrogen Infrastructure Development Act, and Renewable Energy Infrastructure Development Act were all rejected by the governor with his vetoes.
Former Gov. Carroll Campbell showed us the power and respect that a veto message could carry. He once vetoed a record 277 items in the budget, and the Legislature sustained all but one.
Gov. Campbell's vetoes made sense because they only went after wasteful spending. He was focused on our state's economy like a laser beam and encouraged, even demanded, economic development legislation. When he was governor we had one of the best unemployment rates in the nation.
When David Beasley was governor, he rarely saw vetoes overridden. His administration frequently brought economic development legislation to the General Assembly. I personally sponsored many of the bills his administration wrote, and we had the third BEST unemployment rate in the nation.
This column is not an effort to chastise the veto right of a governor, but an effort to question the reasoning behind some of these vetoes. We have tried repeatedly these past six years to get the governor to work with the Republican majority we hold in both chambers in an effort to give him the ammunition he needs to grow our state's economy.
Considering that our state has the third worst unemployment rate in the nation, it is astonishing that the governor routinely rejects major economic development efforts and job creation bills with his veto pen, and once they become law, then does not use these tools to help our economy. The governor frequently tries to explain away the vetoes with philosophy. He frequently talks about the need to improve South Carolina's economic "soil conditions," but then vetoes bills intended to do just that. Besides, Govs. Campbell and Beasley did remarkable jobs with the current soil conditions.
Legislation is never perfect. It is the result of 170 members of the General Assembly working together and compromising with each other to get the job done. No one person has the right or ability to force his opinion on everyone else. Recognizing this fact, we must realize that we are competing against 49 other states and against nations around the globe.
If we are going to succeed and get back to having one of the best unemployment rates in the country, then we must all work together to grow S.C.'s economy.