The Wall Street
year, Republican Gov. Mark Sanford carried two squealing piglets into
the Statehouse to make a point against pork. This year, he brought a
horse and buggy to the Statehouse entrance to argue against South Carolina's
outmoded system of governance. If his reform efforts falter for the
third straight year, he should include an elephant in his next show-and-tell.
Since the former
congressman took office in 2003, Republicans have controlled the state's
executive and legislative branches for the first time since Reconstruction.
Nevertheless, Mr. Sanford has had difficulty gaining clear-cut victories
for his agenda.
The common themes
in Mr. Sanford's broad reform agenda include market competition, fiscal
conservatism and government accountability. His goals remain much the
same as when he was elected in 1994 to Congress, where he supported
Newt Gingrich's Contract with America, (and where he frugally lived
in his congressional office). Mr. Sanford left Congress after six years,
in accordance with his stance on term limits.
As governor, he
has encountered strong opposition from legislative Democrats who continue
to fight his efforts to create private school competition to public
education and to sharply cut the rate of individual income taxes. Senate
Democrats, in particular, remain a force.
But the governor
has been unable to generate sufficient enthusiasm for his ideas among
Republicans to overcome institutional opposition to reform. South Carolina
has historically been legislator- dominated, and his proposals would
generally strengthen the governor's office at the expense of the Legislature.
Currently, the governor has authority over something less than 20% of
House, though testy, has been more receptive to his message. It endorsed
his tax-cut proposal and a diminished plan to strengthen the cabinet.
But his unremitting pressure for stronger reforms has caused friction.
And the animal antics haven't amused House leaders, who view them as
suggesting that state lawmakers aren't exactly a gathering of eagles.
Changes in parliamentary
rules early this year were expected to improve the governor's chances
in the Senate, where the GOP margin is slimmer. Most of his initiatives
were simply stopped in their tracks in the Senate during the first two
years of his term. Senate leader Glenn McConnell, one of Mr. Sanford's
closest legislative allies, acknowledges continued resistance to the
governor's proposals, though he cites the recent passage of tort reform
as evidence of improved prospects for his larger program.
But the governor's
proposal for tax credits to encourage school choice is expected to founder,
and his plan to cut the personal income tax rate from 7% to 4.75% was
sharply modified in the Senate to benefit only small businesses. Some
lawmakers expressed incredulity that the governor would pitch a tax
break based, in part, on its potential benefit to wealthy taxpayers
from out of state. Mr. Sanford hoped to lure wealthy businessmen to
South Carolina who would presumably relocate their companies as well.
It also was designed to attract well-heeled retirees. He remains unmoved
by critics who say there's no evidence that lower taxes would accomplish
Last year, the
tax-cut plan died as a result of a Senate filibuster, when two Republican
senators declined to support cloture. Democratic leaders contended that
their GOP colleagues were privately relieved with the result, since
the cuts would have cost $1 billion that the Legislature would prefer
to spend. This year, prospects for a tax cut were eroded by warnings
from two bond-rating agencies that it could threaten the state's AAA
credit rating, because it offered no source of replacement revenue.
The governor countered that repaying state trust funds raided during
revenue shortfalls of previous budget years should sufficiently bolster
the state's financial stability to make a major tax cut feasible.
Mr. Sanford ultimately
accepted the pared-down income tax plan, which gave him only a fraction
of the relief he sought. Typically, he announced his intention to pursue
the larger proposal next year as he accepted the modified plan. "We're
not going to stop here," he said Tuesday.
In delivering his
horse-and-buggy object lesson earlier this year, the governor insisted
that many of the structural problems of South Carolina's government
are the result of being captive to the past. "We have a system
of government stuck in 1895," he said. The state Constitution was
last rewritten that year. In that context, his legislative detractors,
many nominally conservative, seem merely hidebound.
Inside the Statehouse,
legislative leaders grumble about their hard work on behalf of the governor's
agenda and his reluctance to compromise, and deride him for parading
barnyard animals at the seat of government to make a point. One legislative
critic dubbed him "Governor Doolittle."
governor is being mentioned as a national political candidate because
of his consistent conservatism, engaging "aw shucks" manner
and winning campaign record. Recently, the Cato Institute rated him
fifth on its Fiscal Policy Report Card on America's Governors. (The
folks at Cato will be pleased to know that he has informally indicated
his intention to run for a second term.)
in his approach to the Legislature, Mr. Sanford enjoys a level of popularity
that even his detractors acknowledge. Last year, a poll done on behalf
of the governor's office showed popular support for his legislative
agenda--and displeasure with legislators who oppose it. Legislators
didn't contest the results, but complained that the survey's tone was
unnecessarily confrontational. The governor replied that the offended
legislators were "hypersensitive" and blandly asserted his
intention "to work with the General Assembly."
Mr. Rowe is assistant
editor of Charleston's Post and Courier.
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