COLUMBIA -- Gov. Mark Sanford on Friday listed the shake-up at the unemployment benefits agency and sentencing reform as key victories in his final legislative session.
Sanford, a lame duck, two-term Republican, also pointed to the administration's impact on the budget this year as measures of success.
One example, Sanford said, is $21 million in temporary court-fee increases that the governor vetoed and the House sustained. That action led to legislators' decision to back off other proposed fee increases and instead cut the state budget further.
The governor and his staff are now poring over the $4.9 billion budget that legislators passed within minutes of their mandatory adjournment on Thursday.
Sanford typically issues a stack of vetoes on the budget, which are summarily dismissed by legislators. But this year the vetoes are expected to get more consideration than in the past. Legislators will return June 15 to take up the vetoes.
"It's been, in some ways, a surprisingly good year from the standpoint of the budget," Sanford said.
He said his work with the legislators resulted in a savings of nearly a half a billion dollars. That includes the money saved from not passing the fee increases and future savings in the prison system as a result of the sentencing-reform bill that Sanford signed into law this week.
The sentencing-reform bill would save the state an estimated $350 million by avoiding building another prison. The new law is hailed as being "smart on crime" by diverting nonviolent offenders to probation and community-based treatment programs while freeing up space in the prisons for the violent offenders.
Sanford said a collection of legislative fixes at the former Employment Security Commission also will save money. The agency, renamed the Department of Employment and Workforce, received new management and will oversee a new system to pay out unemployment benefits.
The governor also signed into law this week new rates for businesses to pay into an unemployment trust fund and settle the nearly $1 billion in debt South Carolina owes the federal government.
The new rates will help the state avoid $60 million in interest payments next year, Sanford said.
He said one of his biggest disappointments this year is the Legislature's passage of a new cigarette tax. The state tax on a pack of smokes will increase by 50 cents to 57 cents a pack on July 1.
The money raised will go toward funding future Medicaid obligations. Sanford said it will drain money from the private sector.
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