Governor threatened to veto entire budget again
It took me all afternoon, but I finally balanced my checkbook. Having done that, it is with a great sense of self-sacrifice that I know turn back to the state budget. Oh, my head!
Anyway, you’ll recall that I mentioned the e-mail exchange that a reader had had with House Majority Leader Kenny Bingham, which to me raised questions. That reader later wrote to me again to relate a phone conversation that he’d had subsequently with Kenny. That caused me to send Kenny an e-mail asking him the following:
Kenny, I’ve got a question for my blog… is this correct? Did the governor threaten to veto the whole budget again? And did y’all promise to uphold his vetoes if he didn’t?If so, why in the world didn’t you just tell him to veto the whole budget if that’s what he wanted to do, and then override him, just as you did before?I’m just not following this…— Brad
Kenny responded last night by calling me at home and taking a long time to explain to me what had happened. The two startling things I learned are reflected above in my headline and subhead, to repeat:
- In all the wrestling back and forth over the budget at the end of the session, at one critical moment the governor threatened again to do the outrageous thing he did in 2006 — veto the entire budget. Rather than call that bluff, the GOP leadership (the group led in the House by Speaker Bobby Harrell, Ways & Means chair Dan Cooper and Kenny) made a deal to uphold most of his line-item vetoes. Why did they not just let him veto the whole budget and override him as they did in 2006? Because between the Democrats, who were voting as a bloc against every move the GOP leaders made, and the Republicans who could be counted on to vote with Sanford, the leaders didn’t think they COULD override a veto of the entire budget. And the leadership didn’t want to see the government shut down.
- To avoid that, the leadership agreed to sustain most of the governor’s vetoes. I can’t give you numbers, because frankly I’m not sure of them, and Kenny wasn’t giving me precise numbers anyway. We’re talking about roughly $70 million in vetoes that will be sustained. That’s nowhere near the $414 million that the 107 vetoes total up to. But about half of that is a special pot of money created to deal with a special, stimulus-related, higher Medicaid match that Congress hasn’t yet extended, and the governor says they won’t and lawmakers think it will, and even if it doesn’t there’s enough money to last in the program through next February or April, and… well, it gets REALLY complicated. That disputed Medicaid match is isolated in a section of the budget called Part Four. Most of the vetoes lawmakers will be sweating over are in Part One. (Part Two is where you find provisos, and I never even bothered asking about Part Three, if there is a Part Three…)
And yes, the parts they’re likely to sustain include some of the things that folks are most upset about being cut, such as the State Museum. So does that mean the Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum, for instance, will shut down?
Kenny says no, because the Budget and Control Board has reserves that will keep the museum and other drastically cut programs
going. But there he is relying on the governor SAYING those reserves are available to bail out those programs. And the e-mail campaign against these vetoes that I’ve seen says the governor is wrong about that. I asked, how do you know the governor’s right? And he doesn’t know. I asked, what does Frank Fusco (head of the B&C Board) say? Kenny said he hadn’t talked to Frank yet. Presumably he will before the voting on Tuesday.
Bottom line, Kenny doesn’t know exactly what will happen Tuesday on all those vetoes, because there are a number of things that haven’t been worked out yet. And THAT’S what’s different about this situation. In the past, at this point he would have said with confidence that no one should worry; the vetoes would be overridden. That’s what we’ve seen year after year: Sanford makes his symbolic gesture, and the Legislature keeps the government running.
But this is the first time I’ve seen the GOP leadership this flummoxed over the Sanford vetoes. And as Kenny tells it a lot of it arises from the fact that the leaders just don’t think they have the votes. They blame the Democrats (no surprise there, huh?) for voting against them on a number of key budget votes. He said every single Democrat, with the occasional exception of Herb Kirsh, voted against them. Add to that the minority bloc of Republicans that can be relied upon to vote the Sanford way, and the leadership barely had the votes to pass a budget at all, much less come up with the two-thirds to override the governor.
As an example of the things they fought over… the leadership came up with a plan to raise court fees and license fees to help keep the courts running and pay for the next class of state troopers. The Sanford loyalists wouldn’t go for it, and the Democrats said Republicans should raise a general tax rather than paying for the added expenses with new fees.
I need to talk with somebody with the Democratic leadership this week to get their side of it, but Kenny’s account of the Democratic position sounds pretty credible: Basically, they’re saying that the Republicans got themselves into this mess with their tax cuts and such, and the Democrats aren’t inclined to help them out of it.
Anyway, what I got out of all this was this time, we might actually see some of the more headline grabbing consequences of the governor’s vetoes actually happen: shutting down the State Museum and the Arts Commission, for instance. Might not happen, but there’s a bigger probability this time than ever.
And in spite what I’ve been hearing about how the governor has tried to be more reasonable in dealing with lawmakers since his personal troubles began, it appears that he’s up to his old shenanigans, engaging in the same kind of ideological brinksmanship that we saw at the height of his arrogance.
It’s going to be very interesting to see what happens Tuesday. And those who care about the State Museum or ETV or the arts in SC have every reason to be in suspense.