State lawmakers continued their final budget discussions from the floor of the Senate Wednesday. Finance Chair Hugh Leatherman of Florence applauded his colleagues for not supporting Governor Mark Sanford’s refusal to sign for $700 million in federal stimulus funds. All except for a few senators supported Leatherman’s position to take the money on the table. “This to me is a bridge. There are those who say we need to go ahead and fall off the cliff this year. I’m not one of those. I believe the economy will turn. But to come in here just with some ideology, and penalize our people…I just can’t do that.”
Two of those who have sometimes spoken with Sanford, Tom Davis of Beaufort and Greg Ryberg of Aiken, did take exception Wednesday to the way the last Senate budget plan would spend $37 million from the state’s Insurance Reserve Plan that was not in the original proposal.
The budget plan will increase the number of Highway Patrol troopers from 850 up to 1000, a level not seen since the mid 1970s. Senate Minority Leader John Land commended Leatherman, a Republican, on his campaign to increase the trooper numbers. “Of course since that time we have gone down consistently in the number of troopers, with more accidents on the highways each year. And the number of deaths has gone up. And finally, recently, we’ve gotten a handle on it and the number of deaths has started to decline.”
Leatherman said he was amazed that the only difference between the House and Senate versions of the state budget is three sheets of paper, meaning that the a conference committee will probably not be required to work out differences.
Leatherman told Cherokee County Republican Harvey Peeler that the Senate and the House were on the same track this year. “The bill returned to the Senate from House basically is a Senate bill. I’ve never seen the House willing to go with the Senate the way they did on this budget. And Senator, I know you remember the days when it would go to conference committee and it would take three days for them to select a chairman of the committee.”