Last week, Republican gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley said she would do away with detailed executive budgets, which were typically ignored due to the acrimony between Sanford and lawmakers. Instead, Haley said, she would set a small list of priorities and work with lawmakers during the process.In a message sent to Sanford’s campaign e-mail list, the outgoing governor argued his successor should also draft a detailed budget.
“These Executive Budgets have been vital in creating a budget blue print that showed how we could fund core services of government without raising taxes,” Sanford wrote, encouraging recipients to read a Post and Courier editorial on the subject. “They were important in showing the savings that might come from restructuring and consolidating government.”
Sanford does not mention Haley, a political ally who shares many of Sanford’s positions, by name in the e-mail.
Even with our weak-governor system, the governor is the one elected official with the closest thing to a governmentwide perspective — and has the broadest responsibility to voters. He (or she) should at the very least propose a budget setting priorities for spending, which lawmakers are then free to ignore the way they have since Carroll Campbell started the practice a couple of decades back. Campbell was right to go ahead and ACT like a governor, at least in advocacy terms, by submitting a budget, rather than waiting around to actually be put in charge of the executive branch.
Nikki Haley is on the right track looking for ways to antagonize lawmakers less. (Although it’s a bit late for that. Unlike Sanford, who started with a honeymoon, she’s already alienated legislative leaders to such an extent that if elected she would start out in a hole with them, and she knows it, and knows we know it, which is why she’s talking about this.) But this is the wrong item to start with. An executive budget, theoretical as it is, is a useful tool.
And while Mark Sanford went out of his way to alienate lawmakers so that they would ignore his budget proposals, along with the rest of his agenda, he put a lot of work into his budgets. And while they had their flaws, they were worth considering.
So would be Nikki Haley’s, were she elected. And so would Vincent Sheheen’s, which is why I hope he would continue to submit them. We need governors to actually take an interest in governing.
It’s great that Nikki wants to signal that she’d be different from Sanford. But this is the wrong way to start.