Column on Sanford veto

To kill a theoretical gnat,
Sanford drops the Big One

By Brad Warthen
Editorial Page Editor

FACED WITH global terrorism, the United States, in keeping with its values, drops smart bombs — doing as much as advanced technology will allow to kill mass murderers, and not the noncombatants they hide among.
    Straining at a gnat of his own invention, Gov. Mark Sanford — in keeping with his values — drops the Big One on all of South Carolina.
    Sure, he knew the Legislature had the power to disarm the bomb before it did away with the entire state government. But whether legislators wanted to save the day was up to them. If they had neglected to do their duty the way he abdicated his (if even a third of either the House or the Senate had called his bluff), it would have gone off.
    Not that the governor expected for a moment that they would do that. He counted on them overriding his veto of the entire budget. He’s not insane; he’s just willing to place demagoguery ahead of responsibility.
    The governor knows there must be a government for there to be a civilization in which he is free to engage in politics as a hobby. What he disagrees with the Legislature about is the size of government. Nothing wrong with that, right? We’re dealing with that question every time we argue whether the government should do this, or not do that.
    But that’s not what the governor did. He decided that the government, as measured by expenditures, should grow by no more than this precise percentage.
    The number he picks has nothing to do with the essential demands that a civilization places on government. It’s not based on the number of children to educate, or the number of miles to be paved and patrolled, or the number of prisoners that we decide to lock up, or the number of mentally ill people wandering about.
    No, it’s based on an esoteric calculation involving the functions of inflation and population. He says his growth number is based on “the people’s ability to sustain it.” Never mind that some populations need more cops because they have more criminals per capita, or that a population whose pay is trailing the nation has a greater need to invest in education. Never mind a thousand other ways that the illogic of his proposition can be illustrated. He says you, the taxpayer, shouldn’t have to pay out more than what he says you can afford.
    Sound good? Oh, yeah. On the hustings, it plays much better than actually using your line-item veto power to get as close as you can to your arbitrary number. That would upset voters, because each cut you made would be into something that some of them deem essential. Why not just veto the whole thing, knowing the Legislature will override you, and go into the fall talking about how those people grew government faster than your ability to pay.
    This way, essential functions get sort-of funded (if you think they’re fully funded, count the number of cars ignoring the speed limit in full knowledge there aren’t enough troopers). Legislators still get their pork, rather than anybody forcing them to take a straight-up vote on whether the money would have been better spent on essentials. The governor gets re-elected as the guy who would save you from high taxes and overspending, if only those people would let him.
    Win-win, for everyone but the 4 million people who live in a state that has never gotten it together and set priorities so that it can catch up to the rest of the nation.
    I’ve now blown off enough steam that I can give the governor credit for a couple of things.
He did do the hard work, before the session, of going through state programs dollar-by-dollar — something the Legislature ought to do — and presented a theoretical budget that met his arbitrary figure. A governor should set out his statewide vision, and he did.
    And the Legislature built the budget the way it always does, in big chunks, which meant the governor could not veto some of the specific programs he didn’t like without vetoing others he did like.
    There’s no bigger advocate in this state than I for putting the executive functions of government in the hands of the elected chief executive. Mark Sanford is a slacker on that, compared to me.
    But in any rational republican system, it’s the Legislature’s job to draft a budget. Assuming that lawmakers should simply adopt the governor’s spending vision and go home, without speaking up for the voters who sent them, is to go far beyond the limits of even the most fervid advocates of executive power. It would take us to the point of monarchy.
    To say that the legislative branch had to do it his way or not at all is outrageous. To say that if the government isn’t precisely the size that Mark Sanford wants it to be, there should be no government at all, is horrific.
    You say he expected the Legislature to override him? But in terms of raw, calculating political hypocrisy, that’s even worse than being a head-in-the-sky ideologue who doesn’t know the real-life consequences of his actions.
    Consider this sequence: The governor spent the last days of the primary campaign ignoring his opponent, and running against the General Assembly. His beef was that legislators did not break precedent and stay in town so that he could give them his vetoes, so their votes to sustain or override would be there before the voters on election day. He pontificated mightily on their failure to be accountable.
    Then, when they chose instead to go home and actually face the voters before election day instead of doing his bidding, he took full advantage of the extra time that gave him. He waited until after the polls were closed and the votes counted, and he was safely renominated, before dropping his Big One. He had to do it by midnight that night, so he did it between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. And so Republican primary voters had no opportunity to hold him accountable for what he did with his veto power.
    I thought Mark Sanford was better than this. I really did. Now I don’t.

37 thoughts on “Column on Sanford veto

  1. LexWolf

    “The number he picks ….[is] based on an esoteric calculation involving the functions of inflation and population.”
    What exactly is so wrong about that? I would bet that if there were a referendum to that effect put before the voters it would pass easily. People are tired of spending run amok and I for one am glad that Sanford is at least making an attempt to limit the gluttonous porkers in the Legislature.

  2. Brad Warthen

    Yes, and if you have a referendum asking whether everyone would like a chance to win a million dollars, that would win, too (as it did, in 2000).
    That doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.
    You’re arguing with the wrong thing. I said that Sanford’s approach helps him to be popular, so we’re not disagreeing about that. But “popular” is not the same thing as “responsible” or “reasonable.” In fact, choosing the popular over responsibility in order to get re-elected is precisely the offense that this column is aimed at.

  3. LexWolf

    If you mean the lottery, I don’t have a single problem with people voluntarily handing over their money to the state. The clear advantage to that is that there will be that much less money that the state will have to forcibly confiscate from the rest of us.
    I would argue that it’s eminently responsible and reasonable to hold down spending and to not spend more than we can afford. What is so responsible about the piggies in the Legislature spending money like there’s no tomorrow? In fact, we could say that the piggies are doing the popular thing rather than the responsible and reasonable thing!! Sanford is the last bulwark before they can pig out. The real problem is the Legislature here, not Sanford.

  4. Lee

    Sanford chose the ability of taxpayers to keep funding government as the limit to its growth. That is the maximum figure that is sustainable. He should have been more conservative.
    Population growth presumes that the previous level of services were just right.
    Inflation rate presumes that incomes will keep pace with prices. They do not. They actually lag prices.
    The problem is that there was no real budget. The legislature starts with a guess of all the money they will have, and starts negotiating to carve up the pie. As the economy kept improving, they kept adding onto everyone’s pieces of pie, in an effort to spend every penny.
    The last thing most legislators want is a surplus of cash or a tax reduction, because then they have to work to get that money back in the future.
    Governor Sanford should have announced which line items he would have vetoed as soon as they exceeded the original budget.

  5. Doug

    I would be interested in seeing which programs the legislature actually cut money from versus the year before. Waste is never addressed in the process. It’s a license to steal.
    Keep lining up at the trough, fellows. Spending other people’s money is always easier than trying to justify an ever increasing government.

  6. Nathan

    I’m not quite sure that I understand Brad’s issue with Gov. Sanford. He is angry because the Gov runs against the Legislature to improve his popularity, but not upset that the Legislature wastes money on pork barrel projects to improve thiers. He is upset that the Gov isn’t being responsible or reasonable, but not upset that the Legislature isn’t. Why don’t we see more outcry like that against McConnell against all of the Legislature? Why doesn’t the State do more reporting on what is buried into that bloated budget? What Sanford did wasn’t very smart. He should have line-item-vetoed the budget out of existence. I have a question though: If he did this for popularity, why did he wait until after the polls were closed? Why didn’t he do it the day before? Maybe he didn’t do it for popularity, but rather, to send a signal.

  7. Susie

    Too little too late, South Carolina has always been a Legislative State. In the past we have been blessed with Governor’s who had leadership abilities, even when their choice of an issue cost them the election.
    Endorsing Sanford was an all time low for the State paper. While I have respect for certain reporters and members of the Editorial Board, the paper is hardly worth subscribing to with the exception of the Crossword puzzles, which according to some help keep the mind agile and for protecting my hard wood floors from my Boxer who is on medication to delay his ultimate destiny of death from cancer which renders his regal being to a gallant heart which cannot order his bladder to hold on when he would normally.
    I have admired your way with words, but you sir, need to look in the mirror regarding this primary. Obviously there are many people in the press and in Constitutional Offices who need to take Political Science 101.
    Sanford does not give a rip about the mentally ill, he is more concerned about property rather than people. Get real you seem to be intelligent enough to do so

  8. Herb

    Not sure if others are having the same problem, but I cannot access your most recent post “More on the Sanford veto”.

  9. mark

    Sanford has so many people totally confused about our budget. I’m no fan of the legislature, and I don’t like paying taxes anymore than the next guy, but SC is not a heavily taxed state.
    Most of the state budget is really education and health-related. Prisons are understaffed, highways in need or repair, schools in the “corridor of shame” are crumbling. To dismiss the state budget as wasteful or all pork barrel seems disingenuous to me. This state is not meeting the most basic needs of its citizens, but hey, at least we have a low cigarette tax.
    Is there some waste? Sure, but I’ve seen no evidence that it’s anything as scandalous as some have posted. Sanford was nuts to veto the whole budget, but we all knew he was strange from his congressional days. I sure hope citizens stop falling for his nonsense.

  10. Lee

    Apparently some of you do not think the legislature spent enough.
    How much more should they have spent?
    On what programs?
    How much higher should taxes be?
    Why don’t we just raise them right now, and spend all the money?

  11. Dave

    Susan, thanks to the misguided compassion of liberal thinkers, we have the mentally deranged roaming freely on our streets, while we as taxpayers pay them a stipend to live on, committing crimes on the innocent. Let’s bring back the insane aylums and clean up our cities. Bridges were not built for mentals to sleep under.

  12. Herb

    Lee, why don’t you try reading what Mark wrote, like his second paragraph. He already answered your third and fourth questions. Or if you are not going to read what he writes on those, why should any of us answer any other question you ask?
    Oh, I know, they were rhetorical questions, right?

  13. David

    I think Mark must have wanted to watch TV or go out on the family boat instead of working hard and going through the budget.
    Mark’s biggest goof was leaving those in the legislature that wanted to fight for him over the budget issues out on a limb.
    By striking down the entire budget, he left those that saw it a similiar way in the legislature no way out and no leg to stand on.
    It was very shortsighted.
    As is his custom lately, Mark actually took the easiest way out.
    That was a mistake.

  14. Randy E

    I think Sanford has taken a softer version of a conservative approach to focus on ideological stances versus public service to do good for the state.
    The constitution is an outline for a system of dialogue and compromise. It was written largely in response to a government in which one side had all the control.
    We see the harder approach on this blog site. Some dismiss even disparage anyone that disagrees with them. You can disagree with one position of the fringe and you are painted as a “lib.” Schools as a whole are dismissed as all bad. You challenge anything about the war and you are an unpatriotic liberal who wants terrorists killing Americans.
    I find this approach plain unproductive and am sick of it. Paul D made the point that this site should be used for an exchange of ideas.
    Eduation reform, for one, is too important to be sidetracked by this us vs them, public vs private schools argument. Doug highlighted Richland One’s need for a new slogan. This, I believe, highlights how improving schools is more about the paint of a car rather than the engine – prime topic for meaningful discourse.

  15. Lee

    Mark’s attitude is why the budget is such a mess. He just wants to spend more. How much? Until he can’t think of anything else that “needs” more money.
    It’s imprecise because it is not based on any principals of the size of government or tax fairness. It is detached from the reality that government cannot continue to grow faster than the economy and its ability to generate taxes. It also ignores the fact that with each increase in the size of government, everyone loses a bit more freedom.

  16. Brad Warthen

    I’m sorry; I couldn’t get it, either. I think it’s fixed now. I don’t know what the problem is; I saved it the second time the same way I did the first time. We’ll see.

  17. Palmetto Blog

    The State v Mark Sanford

    Well, as you may know by now, The State newspaper smells blood and has started an assault on Mark Sanford and his fiscal policies. To paraphrase, The State doesnt like Mark Sanford because he doesnt like to spend outrageous amounts of taxpaye…

  18. mark

    I don’t understand how anyone can blame “liberal thinkers” for anything in South Carolina. When was the last time a so-called “liberal” was in charge of anything? Conservative Republicans have a lock on the General Assembly and the State House. Even most democrats in office lean to the conservative side.
    It seems that many in the middle class feel connected only to the wealthy upper-class, and don’t see any connection to those who are less fortunate. But I don’t understand how anyone can have economic aspirations for this state while ignoring public education, essential health care, and the most basic tools for business development.
    I beleive many on this site are simply stating– “I support anything and anyone that will make me richer now.” There’s nothing wrong with not wanting to pay more in taxes. But as a moderate Republican, I beleive this short term thinking– and unnecesary political bickering within the Republican Party– will cost us all a lot more money down the road.
    Where are the statesmen who can unite the Republican party with the vision of a South Carolina that keeps taxes reasonable, spending in check, but can finally make strides in improving education, health care and economic development?

  19. Randy E

    Mark, it’s my opinion the party with the big tent has a faction that is not interested in inclusiveness but indoctrination. There are numerous examples on this site.
    On person disparaged all schools in SC as “horrible.” He suggested private choice was the solution. When asked to justify his plan with details, the inquisitor is derided as a champion of the status quo.
    Others universally take an extreme right postion on each issue. Anyone that strays is derided as a “lib.” These strays have included Bush, Graham, and McCain. These republicans demonstrate the unforgivable flaw, a willingness to engage in dialogue, which apparently is enough to overshadow all their conservative positions.
    The left has their share of ideologues, but the party in charge is the driving force and I see no doubt that the conservative base has the juice.

  20. Lee

    The primary flaw of Bush, Graham and McCain is accomodating the Democrats and the big businesses who finance both parties. Graham is a follower, who waits for McCain, Specter and liberal Republican renegades to write the bills. He simply votes for them.

  21. Randy E

    I posed this question before. What democrat do we have in this state who captures the imagination of the moderates and the left? When Tennendbaum leaves, who will we even have as the figurehead of our party?
    Brad mentioned Joe Riley, but he’s local. Joe Erwin is more an administrator than public servant.
    I’d like to hear from republicans too (spare us the cheap disparaging liberal remarks some of you will make). Who do you think represents this party?

  22. Brad Warthen

    Joe’s a lot more than local. Right now, most would line up behind Inez, because she’s been in the trenches while Joe has been sticking to Charleston. But he would have been the nominee in 1998 if he hadn’t taken himself out of it (Hodges was the party’s third choice, if that; Alex Sanders was the second), and he would have won the election.
    Joe Riley was THE Democrat in the state before Inez won so big in 98 and 02. If he ran, he could be again — especially since she’s sitting this one out. But he won’t.

  23. mark g

    It’s not out of the realm of possibility that Gov. Tommy Moore will step into that role.
    He’s a democrat, but conservative. He’s practical and realistic, yet he supports public education. He just might do it.
    Beyond that, it looks bleak for the dems.

  24. Lee

    If the economy had produced a 26% increase in revenue, the slobs in the legislature would have spent all that, too. They have no budget. They are like pirates, dividing the loot.

  25. Randy E

    If Joe is not going state then I think he’s not the beacon of light for the dems. Mark, I agree. It looks even bleaker for us dems (even though I like Graham alot) than it has in recent years.
    Of course, if Moore can pull the upset, that would change the complexion of everything. I haven’t studied him yet, as I took Brad’s advice and voted in the republican primary (he’s so influential).
    If Joel Lourie runs for a state office, I’m first in line. Anyone know him?

  26. Herb

    Short answer, Brad, out of the country, and without Internet access some of the time. Trying to catch up on what I missed in SC politics is bewildering, though I have read up some. The last few days I’ve been lurking a bit; I like some of Mark’s stuff; at last a bit of balance in this whole thing. Is there some place that moderates could discuss issues without the ideologues?
    While driving on the German Autobahn, I was musing that it must be a libertarian dream to be able to drive as fast as one wants without government intervention. Except if you’re driving a little Opel Corsa like I was, at 80, and being passed by people driving twice that fast (some of them at least). The interesting thing is that it is government laws in Germany that make it possible, like the strict rules about staying to the right except when passing, the speed limit on trucks, and the professional drivers’ training that everybody has to go through. Not to mention the government funding through taxes.
    What do libertarians think about speed limits anyway? Or is that a question for Andre Bauer?
    It would be nice to have some of the high-tech roads and railways that they build in Europe, except everybody here wants to have them without paying for them.

  27. Lee

    Libertarians believe in sensible speed limits, along with other regulations as to the use of state and local roads.
    The only jurisdiction the state has is over state roads. You can drive without registration, tags, paying property taxes, insurance or a driver’s license on private land and roads.
    Until automobiles became fairly popular, very few roads were under county or state maintenance, and no driver’s licenses were required. Even then, for years, all you had to do was mail a few dollars to the state capitol and they would mail back a license.

  28. Herb

    I don’t know what that history lesson was supposed to be about — I’m still not clear as to why libertarians would want any kind of government interference in their daily affairs. Why not let the free market determine the speed limit? It is supposed to determine everything else, it seems.
    Seems like Lee might just need some government after all, except that he doesn’t want it funded.

  29. Lee

    I was just trying to answer one question about libertarianism. It seems that Brad Warthen and others who use it a lot, haven’t done any serious reading of the political philosophy and economics involved.

  30. Lee

    Economic growth rates for SC 2001-2006, including population growth, legal and illegal.
    2001-02 = 1.5%
    2002-03 = 3.1%
    2003-04 = 0.6%
    2004-05 = 3.5%
    2005-06 = 4.1%
    (Source: BEA and The State of June 7, 2006)
    Why should government grow any faster than the economy? In fact, it cannot do so for very long without ending economic growth.

  31. Lee

    Local Governments Also Spending Too Much
    As mentioned by others, Scoppe, Harrell, Land, Leatherma and other whiners about “budget cuts” never mention the local tax increases which offset any slowing of state spending.
    On top of the grotesque spending increase of the state legislature, we have Richland County increasing its spending by 11%.
    Since government is growing faster than the county economy or population, tax increases are required to feed the bloat.

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