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south carolina governor nikki haley

Reversing one of the few things that S.C. Gov. Mark Sanford did right during his eight years as governor, S.C. Rep. Nikki Haley says she will not submit executive budgets to the General Assembly in the increasingly likely event she takes his place next January.

Haley made her ill-conceived pledge privately to state lawmakers last week, but went public with the news Thursday during a speech in Charleston.

“You will see me do things a different way when we go into January,” Haley said.

Apparently so …

In making this fateful decision, Haley has removed a key plank of her bully pulpit before she’s even been elected, let alone sworn in. She’s also clearly signaling to state lawmakers that she will not challenge them on spending issues the way Sanford did – which is great news if you’re a state lawmaker, but awful news if you’re a South Carolina taxpayer.

“She will be complicit with (House Speaker Bobby) Harrell and (Ways and Means Chairman Dan) Cooper,” one furious fiscally-conservative lawmaker told FITS, referencing two key “Republican” architects of South Carolina’s recent spending orgy.

How big an issue is this?

Well, at $20.8 billion, this year’s state budget is South Carolina’s largest-ever – and Haley is throwing away her primary tool to frame the debate over how that money should be spent (and more importantly the debate over why we’re spending so damn much of it in the first place).

Here’s a little background … prior to Sanford’s election in 2002, South Carolina governors typically submitted budget “suggestions.” These flimsy documents weren’t “budgets” at all, though, they were merely recommendations for funding specific pet projects. The business of actually preparing a spending plan to run state government was left exclusively to lawmakers – with disastrous results for taxpayers.

Sanford – to his credit – turned that process on its ear, submitting detailed spending plans each year during his administration that could have actually been used to run state government. In the process the governor – or more precisely, his former deputy chief of staff Chad Walldorf – argued in favor of numerous tax cuts, spending reductions and structural changes that could have saved taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.

Sanford and Walldorf also pioneered an “activity-based” budget model that approached spending from a zero-based, outcome driven perspective (i.e. “purchasing” core functions first) as opposed to the legislative model, which basically just increases funding from the previous year to every state agency based on special interest wishes, electoral considerations or insider horse-trading.

Seriously … Sanford’s first two budgets in particular were things of beauty, comprehensive reform blueprints that could have put South Carolina on a much more responsible fiscal course had they been adopted.

Obviously, that didn’t happen though.

Furious over his encroachment on their turf, lawmakers rebuffed Sanford’s ideas and literally used his budgets as doorstops – deepening a divide that has existed between the two branches of government for the past eight years.

That “divide” will probably be Haley’s excuse for foregoing the exercise altogether, but it’s a weak excuse in our book. After all, a desire to put aside past animosities is no excuse for not fulfilling your fiduciary duty to taxpayers – which is exactly what Haley is doing.

Or “not doing.”

As we noted earlier this year in discussing Sanford’s final budget proposal, the governor “has empowered future chief executives with a valuable new PR weapon (should they choose to use it).”

We’re absolutely shocked – and thoroughly disappointed – that Haley is choosing to lay that weapon down.

“I think she is scared she might actually win and have to govern,” one lawmaker told FITS.

Whether Haley is too lazy to do the work associated with preparing an executive budget or too scared to take on the all-powerful leaders of the General Assembly, either way she is once again backtracking on core commitments that she made to the taxpayers of this state – which is totally unacceptable.

Seriously, Haley is supposed to be taking the fight to the good ole boys … not waving the white flag before she’s even been elected.

Even if lawmakers were to ignore her fiscally-conservative budget proposals completely, Haley could hold their feet to the fire by issuing vetoes and campaigning against them (the latter being something Sanford failed to do in any meaningful sense during his term). Standing up to the status quo is the only way lasting common sense change can ever be accomplished … by building a fiscal conservative majority, not laying down and taking what the fiscally liberal General Assembly gives you.

Haley’s refusal to submit Executive Budgets is the clearest evidence yet that she would rather lay down (no pun intended) than fight … which is clearly NOT what Republican primary voters elected her to do.

We sincerely hope Haley reconsiders this decision. After all, she promised to be a reformer, not another “go along to get along” politician.