House attacks Sanford vetoes

S.C. Governor Mark Sanford

COLUMBIA -- Children's immunizations, technical colleges and forest firefighters were among items spared the budget ax Wednesday as South Carolina legislators considered 107 vetoes.

But research programs designed to create jobs didn't survive as the House worked its way through Gov. Mark Sanford's vetoes. Items cut from the budget by upheld vetoes included universities' nanotechnology, hydrogen fuel cell and transportation research and money to help entrepreneurs succeed.

The Medical University of South Carolina was spared. The House overrode Sanford's veto of two MUSC projects -- $512,741 for the hypertension initiative and $289,088 for the diabetes center.

State Rep. David Mack, D-North Charleston, said saving those projects was one of the few bright spots in the day.

"We are wiping out a lot of necessities in South Carolina -- Consumer Affairs, Human Affairs, the Budget and Control Board," Mack said. "The budget was already cut to the bone, and what we're doing is going to cost a lot of people their jobs. Unless there is some reconsideration, South Carolina is going to be hurt very badly by this."

Rep. Dwight Loftis, R-Greenville, successfully argued to save $525,000 for a program that provides technical and management assistance to small businesses.

"The thing that brings you out of a recession is small business," he said. If legislators get stuck in a mentality to keep cutting no matter what, he said, "we're going to wind up poor, barefooted, broke and behind Mississippi."

The largest single cut of $25 million came to the agency that runs much of the state's bureaucracy, which Sanford has fought for years. The state Budget and Control Board's executive director, Frank Fusco, said the upheld veto will lay off 180 workers, close offices that make budget projections and monitor spending, and put in limbo how state workers and vendors will be paid, leaving the state open to lawsuits.

"If you want to restructure the agency, this is not the way to do it," House Ways and Means Chairman Dan Cooper said before the vote.

The fiscal crisis and voter backlash on spending this election year could hand Sanford his most successful year yet on vetoes. This is the term-limited governor's last chance to influence state spending. In releasing his vetoes, Sanford said he made tough decisions in an effort to set money aside for next year, when the federal stimulus money runs out.

Earlier Wednesday, the House and Senate approved a compromise economic incentives bill that dropped the idea of doing away with corporate incomes taxes over 10 years -- a provision House Republicans wanted. House Majority Leader Kenny Bingham said GOP leaders understand that removing the state's third-largest source of revenue is not possible now.

The nearly $5 billion state spending plan that takes effect July 1 already is $2 billion less than it was two years ago.

"We hear all kinds of comments about how we're 'not conservative enough,' but all we've done is cut spending," said Rep. B.R. Skelton, R-Six Mile. "Everybody is suffering, and we need to carefully consider what we're doing."

Legislators nearly unanimously overrode vetoes to cut $4 million from the state's technical colleges. Some lawmakers said it was madness to eliminate money to run the schools that businesses rely on and that are vital as jobless workers seek training.

In his veto message, Sanford said he wanted to force the technical schools to consolidate administration, but legislators argued the savings are uncertain, and schools would lose local control.

"Don't eliminate technical education in this state," said Rep. Ken Kennedy, D-Greeleyville. "This whole thing doesn't make any sense!"

The House saved $4.5 million Sanford wanted cut from the Department of Health and Environmental Control that would have decimated the agency's operations, laying off 179 workers. It also saved the agency $3.2 million that could have ended various health programs, including childhood immunizations, restaurant and septic tank inspections, rabies and tuberculosis control, and AIDS drug assistance.

Rep. Alan Clemmons, R-Myrtle Beach, successfully argued to spare the Forestry Commission, already down by 100 employees. A $1.1 million cut that would have laid off 30 additional workers and cut basics like fuel and insurance. He said he feared if a fire similar to last year's North Myrtle Beach wildfire, which destroyed 76 homes and charred 31 square miles, happened after the cuts, the destruction would be much worse.

"We've got to give our firefighters everything they need to protect us," said Rep. David Hiott, R-Pickens.

Other items spared included $5 million for ETV, the state's educational television and radio network to pay for basics like buildings and electricity, $5 million for public libraries that could have resulted in libraries ending Internet access or shuttering, and $1.6 million to keep open the State Museum.

Sanford suggested the museum increase its fees, but legislators said that would require raising ticket costs from $5 to $25 per person, preventing 75,000 school children from across the state, who now attend for free, from making the visit.

"This is our history. This is brick and mortar, and artifacts," said Rep. Joan Brady, R-Columbia. "We can't just close it down for a year or two. We would not even be able to pay the rent."

Tensions flared after legislators overrode vetoes to save Clemson University agricultural programs that include livestock disease inspections, but upheld a veto of an economic development program through South Carolina State University, the state's historically black public college. Black legislators said they were baffled and concerned by the difference in the votes.

House Minority Leader Harry Ott, D-St. Matthews, and other legislators of both parties successfully argued for a re-do of the vote, which was then overridden.