SC governor touts lawmakers cooperation in budget vetoes
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — As South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster makes selective use of his budget veto power, he’s following through on a pledge to cooperate with state lawmakers if they worked with him
McMaster on Wednesday rejected just 28 items worth $41 million from South Carolina’s $9 billion budget.
In his veto message, McMaster said most of the items were requests lawmakers made for certain agencies without saying exactly where the money was going. McMaster said those vetoes follow his long held belief to be as open as possible.
“Millions of dollars are going to some place. It doesn’t say what it is going to be used for or who is going to use it,” McMaster said. “We can’t continue doing that as a matter of routine. Every dollar that comes in to be spent, somebody had to earn that dollar out there.”
McMaster’s most recent predecessors often clashed with the Legislature and used their budget vetoes to challenge their spending priorities. But after winning a full term, McMaster and his staff reached out to key lawmakers and collaborated starting in December and going through last week’s special legislative session that finalized the spending plan.
On the day he issued the vetoes, McMaster took the opportunity to highlight all the places lawmakers agreed with his spending priorities. The state is spending $159 million on teacher raises, $65 million on a new fund to help attract businesses to the state’s poorest school districts and $2 million to add mental counselors to schools.
Sometimes McMaster didn’t get as much as he would like — the governor wanted to send $200 million back to taxpayers in rebates, while the final budget sends $67 million back in $50 checks to every income tax filer — but as McMaster wrote in his veto letter to lawmakers, it was a “new spirit of communication, cooperation and collaboration.”
“If you’ve ever seen a fistfight, there is no working getting done as the fight is going on,” McMaster told reporters Wednesday.
Lawmakers echoed the Republican governor’s feelings. After the 2019 session ended last week, House Speaker Jay Lucas said his relationship with McMaster was “far superior” than the other three governors he has served with. One was a Democrat and the last two were Republicans.
“Governor McMaster has been an absolute delight to work with,” said Lucas, a Republican from Hartsville.
Lucas suggested last week that the governor’s budget vetoes would be so inconsequential that lawmakers could wait and return when the 2020 session begins in January.
One big veto rejected $11 million for the Judicial Department for a case management system. McMaster said money needs to be spent on a system that can work with all parts of the criminal justice system.
McMaster said there is still work to be done. He repeated a call for the Senate to come back in for a special session to deal with a massive education reform bill passed by the House. Senate leaders said as the 2019 session ended that they may spend the next six months tweaking the bill and getting additional input, then get back to work when the regular session begins in January.
The governor was asked if he told Senate leaders what he wanted.
“Yes sir, in that room,” McMaster said, pointing at his conference room across the hall from his office. “I think they are thinking about it.”
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