COLUMBIA -- Now all three branches of state government are fighting over money after Gov. Mark Sanford on Wednesday vetoed a bill that would have increased court fees.
"It really will be a torpedo below the water line," said S.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal. "It would absolutely sink the judicial system potentially."
The fees were needed after years of state spending cuts left Toal's court system short on cash and reserve accounts emptied.
The temporary fees on civil court filings and depositions would generate about $21 million.
Toal said she will be confronted with laying off court reporters and the law clerks who do judges' legal legwork.
Sanford said the increased fees will strain budgets and cut off access to courts.
"A big corporation will always be able to pay the fee whether it's a 150 or 300 bucks. But for somebody who is teetering on the edge financially, it may mean the one avenue that they have to access their government may be more prohibitive and more difficult to access," Sanford said.
Sanford, joined by a dozen lawmakers at a news conference, said the state needs to come to grips with its financial problems and set spending priorities.
"You either cut spending or you raise taxes and fees. This administration falls squarely in the camp -- and I'm joined by others who believe strongly as well -- that we've really got to look at options that don't involve raising the aggregate tax and-or fee load on South Carolinians," Sanford said.
It's now up to legislators to decide whether to try to override his veto. That requires a two-thirds vote first in the House as early as today, then likely next week in the Senate.
Sanford's veto comes as the House and Senate are trying to reach deals on a final version of the state's $5 billion budget and avoid the delay of a conference committee.
Sanford has warned legislators not to include more than $45 million in increased fees in their spending plan.
"If the House and Senate don't have that money to work with, that means we've got to go back in the budget and cut out" up to $45 million, said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Hugh Leatherman, a Florence Republican.