COLUMBIA -- Gov. Mark Sanford's veto of fee increases for civil court filings survived in the House on Thursday with a 58-51 vote.
That was far short of the two-thirds votes needed to override the veto.
Without the more than $21 million the fees would raise, state Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal said Wednesday she'd have to lay off court reporters and the law clerks.
"It really will be a torpedo below the water line," Toal said. "It would absolutely sink the judicial system potentially."
Sanford and opponents of the measure said it would make it more expensive to do business with the state courts. They drew no distinction between raising fees and taxes and said legislators need to use regular tax money to pay for a basic government function.
"This is just another tax," said state Rep. Ralph Norman, a Rock Hill Republican. "They can call it a fee, but this is a tax."
"If it's so important our judicial system gets funded, why aren't we putting up amendments to fund it in the budget as it should be?" asked House Minority Leader Harry Ott, a St. Matthews Democrat. He said budget writers, who have completed their work on a $5 billion spending plan, need to address the issue.
With state spending cut by $2 billion in the past two years, Six Mile Republican Rep. B.R. Skelton said it was a "tough decision requiring us to do things that we would not do in ordinary times."
State Rep. Ken Kennedy said that in better financial times the Republicans controlling the Legislature set the stage for court funding problems.
"What we did was we gave tax cuts, tax cuts, tax cuts, tax cuts," said Kennedy, a Greeleyville Democrat. "And now we are in bad times and we're broke."
Supporters will try again next week to muster the votes for a second attempt at overriding the veto.