My column in the Aiken Standard

Last week, Governor Sanford vetoed all of Part I of the state budget (funding for state agencies); all of Part III (appropriated federal stimulus dollars); and 47 separate line item vetoes of Part II (budget provisos for state agencies including a proviso accepting all available federal stimulus dollars). One day later, the General Assembly considered whether to override or to sustain each of these vetoes. I voted to sustain many of the governor’s vetoes including his vetoes of Parts I and III. Contrary to an e-mail to local teachers from a Columbia based education group, I voted to override the veto of the proviso accepting the available federal stimulus dollars. I thought long and hard and talked to lots of folks in our district before casting my votes. Here are the reasons for my voting the way that I did:

First, when I ran for office last year, people everywhere told me that the state Legislature spends too much money on noncritical functions of state government. Voters asked me to watch the spending of our tax dollars and they also asked me to work to ensure that the decisions in Columbia are made with vision and the long-term future in mind rather than simply a Band-Aid fix to problems that will have to be addressed again the following year or soon after. Remembering these principles, I considered the proposed state budget.

Second, because of the uncertainty as to the availability of the stimulus funds, lawmakers should have passed a budget that funds core functions of state government – education, law enforcement and health care – with more money without stimulus dollars than it currently does. If the stimulus money is tied up in a court battle and not here by the start of the new state budget year on July 1, then many people, especially those in the education community, will wish that lawmakers prioritized spending for critical areas and cut less critical needs rather than simply making across-the-board cuts. Sustaining the veto would have required lawmakers to do this.

Third, the state currently has no money in its unemployment trust fund. Every dollar paid each week to unemployed workers is borrowed. At the end of this year, we will owe more than $750 million from this borrowing and will have no money in the account for future unemployment benefits. The budget could have included money to pay back some of this unemployment fund debt but it did not. Sustaining the veto would have required lawmakers to find a way to start paying back this debt. Instead, we may be looking at raising taxes during the next two years to pay down this debt burden.

Fourth, although I support using the available stimulus funds for South Carolina, I oppose appropriating stimulus dollars before we prioritize spending and we know that the stimulus dollars will be available for appropriation. When you and I have a budget shortfall at home or in our business, we have to make tough decisions. Some things we will continue to do but maybe not as often and some things we will eliminate. State government should be no different. The budget should have funded priorities first – like education – without using stimulus money. If the stimulus money is available before July 1, then lawmakers could then debate where to appropriate those dollars. If the money is not available until a much later date, then we at least passed a budget that planned for the potential of not getting those funds. Sustaining the veto would have required lawmakers to do this.

Fifth, I oppose appropriating money, especially stimulus dollars, to noncritical needs in a tight budget year. For example, do we really need two state-owned golf courses that lose money? Should we spend state tax dollars on the McLellanville Arts Festival and Spoleto? Does the lieutenant governor need a full-time security detail? From what I am hearing, most people in District 81 would prefer that their tax money go to more critical needs like education, law enforcement and health care.

Making tough decisions emphasizing fiscal restraint with our tax dollars and thinking ahead to where we want to be in South Carolina several years down the road are two things that voters asked me to do when I was elected last year. Voters did not ask me to spend money on unnecessary programs and to underfund critical needs like education while hoping to get stimulus money that runs out in two years leaving several hundred million dollars in recurring unfunded obligations. As lawmakers, we can do better and sustaining the veto under the circumstances was the choice that demonstrates fiscal responsibility and governing with a vision for the future.

The writer represents District 81 in the S.C. House of Representatives.

by Rep. Tom Young

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