Once upon a time, S.C. Gov. Mark Sanford was a wildly-popular maverick intent on revolutionizing state government – particularly how it spent your money.
This week, the scandal-scarred (and hugely unpopular) governor released a “$5.8 billion” state budget that tinkers around the edges of many of the problems he once sought to tackle head-on.
First of all, Sanford’s budget is not a $5.8 billion budget – that’s just the general funds it presumes to appropriate (of course we all know who does the actual misappropriating in this state).
To his credit, Sanford points out that the state’s total budget (including federal funds and largely undisclosed “other” funds) is projected to soar to $22.8 billion in FY 2010-11 – which would be a 50% increase from 2003. For more on that dirty little secret and other common misconceptions about the state budget, click here.
Anyway, what was once a potent PR document for supporters of long overdue spending reform (gubernatorial budgets have no actual power) has sadly become an exercise in under-achievement in addition to irrelevance.
Back in the early days of his administration, Sanford’s groundbreaking budgets were truly something to behold, even if lawmakers did ignore nearly all of their cost-saving suggestions. Today? They’ve devolved into annual snapshots of just how far Sanford has been willing to backpedal in order to achieve a political victory.
For example, Sanford claims to have found $255 million in savings in his latest budget, but he then argues in favor of “reinvesting” those savings into other government agencies. So in other words, these aren’t really “savings,” they’re just taxpayer dollars that the governor wants moved from one pot to another.
The governor’s budget also throws in the towel (again) on meaningful restructuring of the state’s bloated, inefficient system of higher education.
By recommending that taxpayers continue funding totally pointless schools like USC-Salkehatchie and USC-Union, Sanford is reversing his previous support for restructuring – basically saying that it’s okay for a state with a population of 4 million to have 33 state-supported colleges and universities (and nearly 80 campus locations).
Sanford does propose some higher ed realignment, but on this front (and so many other fronts) he appears more comfortable these days bowing to the powers that be than continuing to make the case for real spending cuts.
And real spending reform.
Sure, there are some good things in Sanford’s spending plan – like eliminating the corporate income tax, for example (a courtesy that should be extended to small businesses and individual taxpayers, by the way) – but these proposals are fewer and farther between than they have been in years past.
They are also nowhere near as seismic as the big-ticket tax cuts he proposed during his 2002 campaign, another sign of how dramatically Sanford has scaled back his expectations.
Will Sanford’s budget pass?
Of course not … but even if it did, it would do very little to fix the backward way we spend money in this state, to say nothing of reducing the exorbitant, ever-escalating amounts we’re spending.