If there are two times of the year when I feel pretty uncomfortable in the House Chamber it’s Budget Week and Vetos**.

I guess because I’m not so much the go-along to get-along type kind of guy that it’s times like these that wear on you. Thank goodness, I’m not alone though.

For the three years that I’ve been serving, I’ve been a part of a handful of House Members questioning where your tax dollars are going and why. We’ve been attempting to either reduce spending or perhaps re-direct where funds are going. Of course, it’s inevitable the budgetalways passes the House pretty much the same way it came to the floor and many would argue it’s an exercise in futility to even attempt to amend the budget once it comes from Ways and Means.

In a nutshell, if you’re not on Ways and Means – you really have little impact on shaping the budget. There. I said it.

I guess I was naive to think people would listen to debate from the floor and vote accordingly but the overall theme is “no amendments pass” and the Republicans play defense the whole week while the Democrats are usually the ones offering amendments (on offense).

Sometimes though amendments aren’t trying to spend more money; they’re trying to spend less – or, as I mentioned earlier, move it from one pot to another. Thing is….moving from one pot to another is like watching kids in a sandbox trying to share toys. It ain’t gonna happen but if it does, it’s not going to be easy.

I don’t want to put anymore bulls-eyes on my friends so I won’t list the ones I feel are the fiscal conservatives but I will tell you, contrary to what some think in the chamber, there is a growing nucleus of elected officials throughout the state that would prefer we spend less and have more disclosure than we have.

Oh – that House Rule we passed earlier this year? I”m curious to finally see those earmark requests which will be available to members Tuesday – the day the budget debate starts.

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Gov. Mark Sanford isn’t the only one smarting after the House overrode all but a handful of his budget vetoes.

House members who sided with Sanford on almost all of his 163 vetoes were punished by their colleagues Wednesday with votes to block money for long-delayed maintenance at technical colleges in their districts. Midlands Technical College and York Technical College felt the wrath of House members angry at a handful of lawmakers who voted against other regional projects.

“It was a vote done purely out of spite,” said Rep. Joan Brady, R-Richland, who supported Sanford on some – but not all – of his vetoes. “This was a very childish thing to do.”

The votes came near the end of two days of debate on vetoes totaling $95 million. Overall, the House carved out 16 items totaling $1.6 million in the $5.8 billion spending plan.

Aside from the college money, few of the upheld vetoes were regional projects. Vetoes of three projects in Florence County – home of Senate Finance Committee chairman Hugh Leatherman – also were upheld Wednesday.

Each technical college would lose out on $100,000 earmarked for repairs. House leaders embarrassed by the vote say they will try to revisit the vetoes today, but it’s unclear if they can.

The House voted to give maintenance money to more than 20 other colleges across the state.

Without the money, classrooms at several of Midlands Tech’s campuses will not get much-needed repairs, spokesman Todd Gavin said.

First-year Rep. Nathan Ballentine, R-Richland, was one who voted to uphold most vetoes of regional projects. He says he’s unfazed by the retribution exacted on the schools.

“I was told they were trying to send a message, but it’s just politics as usual,” Ballentine said. “Does it surprise me? No. Are we working to change things? Yes.”

The votes to withhold money from the two colleges pitted seasoned lawmakers against several freshman Republicans who have allied themselves with Sanford, including Ballentine, Nikki Haley of Lexington and Ralph Norman of York.

“It’s unfortunate if people chose to sustain those vetoes based on reasons other than protecting the taxpayers,” Sanford spokesman Will Folks said.

Others saw different motives at work.

Judiciary Committee chairman Jim Harrison, R-Richland, blamed allies of Ways and Means Committee chairman Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston.

Harrell and Harrison are rivals to succeed House Speaker David Wilkins, who could be confirmed as U.S. ambassador to Canada this week.

“Speaker politics just reared its head,” said Harrison, pointing out that many House members from the Midlands are siding with him.

Norman said that theory doesn’t hold because he’s supporting Harrell in the speaker’s race, which could come to a vote as soon as next week.

House Minority Leader Harry Ott, D-Calhoun, said the technical college votes were simply about political payback.

“Maybe it was to be expected, but I don’t think students should be punished for what some members perceive to be bad votes.”

Reach Stensland at (803) 771-8358 or jstensland@thestate.com.


The House on Wednesday finished considering 163 of Gov. Mark Sanford’s budget vetoes, upholding a total of 16.