CHAOS REIGNS AS S.C. HOUSE, SENATE AND GOVERNOR COLLIDE OVER BUDGET, TRANSPORTATION REFORM
FITSNews – June 5, 2007 - Call it South Carolina’s own private Three Mile Island.
What started out as a press conference held by Gov. Mark Sanford and members of the S.C. House of Representatives aimed at criticizing the S.C. Senate’s version of the state budget turned into full-scale meltdown as Senators crashed the event and took over the podium.
“It seems you’ve been building a wall between the House and the Senate,” an irate State Sen. Harvey Peeler told the governor. “If Ronald Reagan were standing here today he would say, ‘Mr. Sanford, tear down this wall.’”
Sanford immediately fired back, saying Peeler’s remarks were “a reminder of how cheap rhetoric is.”
House members led by Speaker Bobby Harrell also noisily exited the premises the moment that State Sen. Hugh Leatherman took the podium, drowning out the diminuitive Senate Finance Chairman’s remarks. Leatherman, who is viewed by many in the House as being responsible for the impasse between the two Republican-led chambers, is said to be holding up a controversial transportation reform bill in an effort to secure more favorable conditions next year for a gas tax increase.
On the other hand, Senators insist the bill is being held up by State Rep. Annette Young’s insistence on a $200 million transportation annualization, or use of one-time money to fund a recurring expense.
Hanging in the balance of the increasingly heated back and forth is not only the transportation bill, but also a workers’ comp reform bill and the state budget itself – all of which appear to be on life support as the Republican feud in Columbia deepens.
“If we don’t get a budget, if we don’t get real workers’ comp reform, if we don’t get DOT reform, that’s fine with me,” said State Rep. Garry Smith, who attended this afternoon’s press conference.
Smith added (with a wink) that a “continuing resolution” which would effectively freeze state spending at the current fiscal year’s levels would be an acceptable alternative. The continuing resolution, or “CR,” would make exceptions for education funding, pay raises for state employees, debt service on existing bonds and a few other items.
“You’re still looking at about a billion in savings (over the proposed budget),” State Rep. Michael Thompson said of the continuing resolution offered by the House.
State Senators were split on whether or not the House was bluffing when it essentially threatened not to pass a budget unless transportation reform and workers’ comp were dealt with.
“I hope (they’re bluffing),” Senate President Pro Tempore Glenn McConnell said. “It sets a dangerous precedent to start taking pieces of legislation and hanging them on the future of the budget.”
Senator Yancey McGill said he would be shocked if the session ended this week without a budget.
“I can’t believe the House wouldn’t get us a budget,” McGill said.
“We’ll get a budget,” State Sen. Billy O’Dell said.
Others were not so optimistic.
“I don’t think we’ll get one,” State Sen. Ralph Anderson said. “They’re not getting closer in the dialogue at all.”
Stay tuned for more from FITSNews as the State House soap opera continues to unfold … or unravel.