The South Carolina Supreme Court is now deliberating whether or not Governor Mark Sanford unconstitutionally overstepped his authority when, in order to help fund a critical state agency, he took money from a trust fund meant for rural towns.
At issue was the governor’s veto of a $25 million budget for the Budget and Control Board, an agency that runs many of the state’s crucial operations. Sanford, who serves as the head of the five-member board that oversees the agency, said the legislative budget was too wasteful.
Sanford instead took more than $13 million from the Rural Infrastructure Bank’s Trust Fund to help pay for the Board. The town of Timmonsville sued, claiming it will not be able to fix its water system without the funds. No town or county has ever taken money from the fund since it was created.
State Rep. James Smith (D-Richland) argued the case Friday on behalf of the town. Smith says the governor can only vote approve or reject a legislative budget, he cannot change it.
If the governor, in his action, essentially… becomes a legislator by changing or amending the budget, then that is impermissible. The governor can simply veto it and reject it, or accept it.
Sanford’s attorneys argued the decision was legal under budget rules that allow agencies to move money around to pay for core functions when there is a budget shortfall. Smith says those rules are not meant to eliminate entire programs, however.
When it’s a wholesale re-appropriation of dollars… where one initiative is completely eliminated and another that… a veto, in effect, restored, that is an impermissible delegation of legislative authority.
He says only the legislature can alter the budget.
Despite the lawsuit naming all five as respondents, three of the Board’s members (State Treasurer Converse Chellis and legislators Hugh Leatherman and Daniel Cooper) support the lawsuit. Only Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom supports the Governor’s veto.
The Budget and Control Board has already taken the money out of the trust fund for its budget. If the court rules in Timmonsville’s favor, the legislature’s original budget proposal of $25 million for the agency would then be used.