The Daily Journal: Sanford, lawmakers spar over budget, agree on immigration

COLUMBIA — Gov. Mark Sanford and the state’s legislative branch saw both agreement and contention on different items in the last few days before the legislature’s session came to an end Thursday evening.

After passing the House and the Senate, an immigration bill Rep. Bill Sandifer said was

“It has been the practice of this governor to consistently attack the legislative branch as a whole, with the idea that the only way to do business in the state of South Carolina would be according to his rules.” — Rep. Bill Sandifer

among the strongest in the nation, was signed into law by Sanford on Wednesday.

Sanford and Sandifer said the bill’s passage was the result of hard work and spirited debate within both houses of the legislature and that the final product pleased all parties concerned.

The bill provides the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) authorization to enter into agreements with the U.S. Departments of Justice and Homeland Security to enforce federal immigration laws and also calls for the establishment of a hotline, Web site and database for reporting and tracking violations of immigration laws, while also requiring jails to verify the status of inmates. The measure allows local governments to pass even stricture immigration laws, while simultaneously preventing them from prohibiting enforcement of such laws.

“We were on the same page as far as what needed to be done,” Sandifer said. “In comparing it to the illegal immigration bills in other states according to the research I’ve seen, this bill is one of the strongest in the country.”

Sanford emphasized the strong verification requirements of the bill as beneficial, as the state law now requires a new methodology for verifying an immigrant’s status.

The E-verify system is a federal program database that takes information on a potential employee and certifies that person’s credentials as valid. Also, verification through a South Carolina driver’s license will be an option. Employers violating the verification requirements can be fined between $100 and $1,000 per worker, and if they are found to have knowingly hired an illegal immigrant, their business can be temporarily shut down, up to 30 days on first offense and five years if caught a third time.

Sen. Thomas Alexander, R-Walhalla, said the breakthrough was the fruition of a lengthy legislative process. “This was the culmination of a lot of work over the entire legislative session.”

Sanford, however, provided acerbic criticism to the legislature regarding its overriding the vast majority of his vetoes in the next fiscal year’s budget. Between the Senate and the House, the legislative branch sustained only $2 million of the roughly $72 million cuts contained in 69 vetoes Sanford issued. Sanford issued his common refrain of reckless spending toward the state’s lawmakers, saying the budget showed “disdain for taxpayers.”

Two state agencies, Education and Corrections, are budgeted to run a $28 million cumulative deficit. Another key veto override involved the state’s expansion of Medicaid to more children through South Carolina’s SCHIP program. The budget calls for the implementation of $21 million to expand Medicaid opportunities to children within 200 percent of poverty.

“That program will be allowing thousands of children to gain access to preventative care and health care,” Alexander said. “It has the potential to provide health care to more than 80,000 children in South Carolina.”

In the House, Sandifer also voted to override Sanford’s veto of the SCHIP expansion.

“It’s very simple,” Sandifer said. “We have an opportunity with SCHIP to extend the benefits of Medicaid coverage to a lot of children who would not have otherwise been covered by any kind of health care.”

The expansion of paid care will help ease the burden on hospital and emergency rooms that are being crowded and having problems with many people who need care but cannot afford it. Sandifer said it was also a moral issue.

“One of the things I cringe about is the idea of young children not having access to quality health care,” he said. “I have children and grandchildren, and I cringe when I think about children not getting taken care of.”

Sanford not only blasted the legislative branch for what he called “reckless” spending but also challenged the legality of the budget as a whole.

“There’s no way around the fact that if the General Assembly has passed a budget that they know will require deficits, then it’s not a balanced budget, period,” Sanford said. “We have real concerns about the legality of this budget — and at this point, we’re not convinced that a lawsuit would be a bad thing, given that it may indeed be the only way to prevent the legislature from engaging in this kind of recklessness in the future.”

Meanwhile, Sandifer and Alexander defended the legislature’s spending as fiscally conservative, calling Sanford’s criticism inaccurate.

“It has been the practice of this governor to consistently attack the legislative branch as a whole, with the idea that the only way to do business in the state of South Carolina would be according to his rules,” Sandifer said. “He certainly has the right and the opportunity of line item veto, and he has exercised that right hundreds and hundreds of times. The legislative branch is a separate branch of government, as it was established by our forefathers, and we have the responsibility of looking at the vetoes that he sends us.”

Alexander said it was the legislature’s responsibility to think of the people of the state before considering any other views on their actions.

“We are fiscally conservative; we operate on a balanced budget, and we reduced it by $180 million,” Alexander said. “We have reduced the tax burden while at the same time being responsible for the health and education and welfare of the people of South Carolina.”

Sandifer said Sanford’s claims of the legislature’s “disdain” of the taxpayers was unfounded.

“The fact that we have cut taxes by more than $1 billion in the last two years debunks any argument that we have disdain for the taxpayer. Just the reverse is true,” Sandifer said.

“Those vetoes were very carefully considered. We are all about good government. We’re not about press conferences or showmanship. None of those things are what motivates us. What we are about is taking care of the people’s business.”

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