Governor's pen might free up cash

South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford

COLUMBIA — Gov. Mark Sanford used his veto pen to free up $72 million that he believes the state Legislature should direct toward school bus fuel and prisons but, as in years past, the question is how many of his vetoes actually will survive.

In all, Sanford vetoed 69 items from the upcoming $7 billion budget — a list much shorter than he usually offers.

"The vetoes represent one final chance to further impact the spending that takes place in our family budget of South Carolina," Sanford said.

Last year the House alone spent more than 10 hours on the floor considering the governor's 243 vetoes, ultimately overriding all but 15. At that time, Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell and House Speaker Bobby Harrell, both Charleston Republicans, said more of Sanford's vetoes would be sustained if there weren't so many of them. The more Sanford vetoes, the more legislators form alliances.

McConnell said Wednesday that the governor might see more success this year.

"Not having hundreds of them makes it easier," said McConnell, who couldn't offer specifics after finishing a full day on the Senate floor and not having had the chance, like most legislators, to examine the list.

One of the lead budget writers, Rep. Dan Cooper, R-Piedmont, said he doesn't expect the Legislature to react any differently to the vetoes this year. The House has gone through many of the same vetoes year after year.

"I don't know why they'd change their mind," he said.

Still, Sanford said the Legislature removed $142 million of the $167 million in spending, or 85 percent, of what was vetoed last year. Those projects are not part of the current budget.

Most special projects were left out of the budget, which starts in July, because of an economic slump that's expected to make revenue tight. The veto list contains a lot of familiar items, with higher-education spending taking a typically hard hit.

If sustained, the College of Charleston would lose about $3 million for programs in hospitality, tourism and management, real estate, teaching and global trade.

The Medical University of South Carolina takes an especially hard hit with Sanford vetoing $7 million, including a boost to the overall budget the hospital wanted for advanced training of doctors in specialized areas, including cancer and heart treatment. MUSC also would lose $600,000 for the Hollings Cancer Center and $575,000 to cover indigent patient care.

Sanford said the budget "creates what amounts to an unconstitutional deficit" because of the projected shortfalls facing the state departments of Education and Corrections. The state is required to have a balanced budget by law, and legislators argue that it is.

The Education Department faces an extra $1 million in fuel costs every time diesel prices jump 8 cents, and is already anticipating a deficit of at least $10 million. Meanwhile, the Corrections Department could potentially face a deficit of $8 million.

"This level of funding for Corrections is unacceptable because the agency performs the essential function of housing and rehabilitating our state's inmate populations," Sanford wrote. "Inadequate funding will eventually lead to prisons being closed, inmates being furloughed and prison security being diminished."

The House could take up the vetoes as early as today or could wait until next week. The Legislative session ends June 5.