February 28, 2024

The Nerve Archive

Where Government Gets Exposed

MY LAST NERVE: Passing the Veto Buck



While the governor’s vetoes may have totaled a miniscule portion of the budget, it didn’t stop lawmakers from overriding a significant number of her 87 vetoes (83 on the General Appropriations bill, three on the Capital Reserve Fund bill, and one on the Supplemental Appropriations bill). The House sustained only 17 of the 87 vetoes and the Senate another two.

The Legislature moved quickly through the vetoes, often not even feigning serious debate to the possibility of sustaining a veto. In the Senate, for instance, the body agreed on multiple occasions to a unanimous consent motion to apply a previous roll-call vote to several of the succeeding vetoes. In other words, senators didn’t even take a vote on whether or not to sustain or override each veto on its merits, but instead they allowed their vote on one veto be applied to several others.

The ease with which lawmakers spend taxpayer dollars without deliberation is simply appalling.

In the House, on the other hand, representatives gave few details as to why their colleagues should join them in overriding the governor’s vetoes. In some cases lawmakers simply approached the podium and asked their colleagues to join them in overriding a veto simply because an agency head asked for the appropriation. I can’t be the only who thinks that this lavishing of hundreds of thousands of dollars – and sometimes millions – on state agencies and nonprofits wouldn’t fly so smoothly in the private sector.

In the real world, the world in which people have to explain how money is spent and justify it, a department head would have to show why he or she needed more money for the department than was received last year, and then maybe the CEO would explain to the board why expenditures are up. But in state government, legislators who aren’t on the budget-writing committee are expected to appropriate funds despite the objection of the state’s CEO (for all intents and purposes) because their colleague told them an agency head asked for it.

Sorry, but taxpayers – and non-budget-writing legislators – deserve a few more details on why the state is spending money the way we are.

Each year, and at each stage of the budget, it becomes clear why the state budget law exists. Despite lawmakers’ outright violation of the law’s requirement for the budget-writing committees of each chamber to sit jointly to consider the executive budget, some parts of the law are still adhered to, and for good reason. For example, agencies are required to submit their budget requests for the fiscal year to the governor, who is then tasked with drafting an executive budget. Even so, the crucial joint meetings on the executive budget never occur. That allows a few legislative leaders to make drastic changes to the budget with little oversight, indeed more or less in secret. Once the budget is released to the other members of the body, there is little time to figure out what all it contains and for what purposes.

The governor’s vetoes should no doubt have gone significantly further in reducing wasteful appropriations, but that being said, the outcome of the veto session further shows the disregard our lawmakers have for the governor’s statewide perspective on spending priorities.

Jamie Murguia is Director of Research for the S.C. Policy Council, The Nerve‘s parent organization.

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