Sanford files lawsuit after legislature overrides vetoes - - Columbia, South Carolina

Sanford sues state attorney general on stimulus

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Details are emerging in South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford's lawsuit over federal stimulus money.

The lawsuit posted Thursday on the federal court's Internet site names Attorney General Henry McMaster as the defendant, as the chief enforcer of South Carolina laws. The suit says the Republican governor has sole authority to request nearly $700 million in federal bailout money intended to keep the state from cutting education spending.

"If we allow this decision that they have made to hold, it's going to set precedent for the next governor, and the governor after that, and the governor after that," said Sanford.

McMaster released a statement saying his office is preparing to make a response.

"It's unfortunate that this drama must now play out in the courts. Like most South Carolinians, I was hopeful that the governor and legislature would be able to resolve their differences on the budget. We have received the governor's lawsuit and are currently researching the law in preparation for making an appropriate response," said McMaster's statement.

He asks the federal court to declare the Legislature violated the South Carolina Constitution by requiring that he request the money.

After legislators overrode Gov. Mark Sanford's vetoes Wednesday of the $5.7 billion state budget and his refusal to accept federal stimulus funds, the governor said he was filing a lawsuit in protest.

"We know that a suit will be filed against us on this issue, and as such we've filed a suit tonight in response," Sanford said Wednesday in a statement. "We believe the legislature's end-around move on the stimulus won't pass constitutional muster, and if it were allowed to stand it would have far reaching implications for future governors of this state and for governors of other states as well."

The suit is expected to challenge the legislature's ability to force Sanford to request $350 million in federal stimulus money, which they did Wednesday by overriding his veto of that provision of the state budget.

"The absurdity of saying we don't want the $700 million dollars, give our money to other states resonates not only with people in South Carolina but anybody around the country who's watching this has to wonder what's going on over there," said Speaker of the House Bobby Harrell.

The governor's actions could now be followed by state lawsuits -- one filed by the general assembly against the governor and the other by attorneys for a Chapin High School student.

Dwight Drake, is one of the lawyers for 18-year-old Casey Edwards.

"I think his actions have affected future governors. I mean he's made his office of governor virtually irrelevant and he's weakened the office of governor by the various actions he's taken. So he's already established a precedent by being such a poor governor," said Drake.

But at least one House member is not ready to fire back at Sanford with another lawsuit.

"I hope we don't. Let the issue be resolved by the courts looking at the governor's suit and deciding on the merits of it. I don't see quite frankly what value there is in this tit for tat, back and forth," said Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter.

Senate Pro Tempore Glenn McConnell has also made his opinion apparent about the governor's choice. He says, "South Carolinians need to know that Governor Sanford has already politically left this state, sometimes physically, but always mentally."

The Senate voted 34-12 Wednesday afternoon to override Sanford's veto of nearly all of the $5.7 billion spending plan.

Earlier in the day, the House issued its overrides for the two budget sections.

After Sanford announced his lawsuit, State Superintendent Jim Rex fired back at the governor in a statement.

"It's time for the will of South Carolinians to win out over this unbending ideology. This isn't an economics class. It's real life, and real people are hurting. The General Assembly understands that, even if our governor doesn't. Governor Sanford is basically standing in the doorways of our schools while teachers are losing jobs and districts are cutting effective programs. Sadly, our students stand to be the big losers here," said Rex.  

Legislators said the stimulus money is needed to head off deeper cuts in public school budget, double-digit college tuition increases and cuts for law enforcement and the state's prison system. Sanford insists that he won't request the money unless it is used to offset state debt.

Wednesday morning, House members began looking at the list of vetoes. On a 104-0 vote, they overrode Sanford's veto of a bill that creates authorities and boards to oversee several technical colleges.

A few hours later, the House voted by overwhelming margins to override the governor's vetoes of major portions of the spending bill.

House members voted 98-19 to keep the main funding section of the plan, and 93-23 to override the veto of the section built on federal stimulus funding. 

The House gave Sanford some lesser victories by voting to sustain the governor's vetoes of a program for medically fragile children, a railway transfer in North Charleston, creation of a capital police force and a measure dealing with the governor's appointee to the South Carolina Research Authority.

The House GOP Caucus says House members sustained 35% of the governor's vetoes pertaining to nearly four dozen provisos.

Sanford did not veto the entire $5.7 billion budget, but came close.

He's said for weeks he would not approve a spending plan that included stimulus money.

The governor says $700 million dollars allocated to the state should be used to pay down debt.

Sanford called the budget put forth by state lawmakers "fundamentally flawed" and said that many of them weren't given enough time to even look at the state budget to properly vote on it.

"They were not really even given time to look at this budget. There was a motion for a 24-hour look and that was denied, so it's basically just a handful of folks worked out the details on this budget over the weekend," said Sanford.

Richland Senator Darrell Jackson said if the vetoes were not overridden, the state would not be able to formulate a budget. If that happened, Jackson said, "We would have chaos in South Carolina beginning July 1st."

"I think again this governor has demonstrated that he does not have his feet on the ground and he does not understand where the state of South Carolina is. We're in a crisis," said Sumter Sen. Phil Leventis.

"It's a legitimate effort by 170 people who are not absolutely like-minded, but we came up with something that we believe will work, and the governor has said, let's not even talk about it, let's just throw the whole thing out and start again. He's got to get in touch with reality, I don't know where the reality that he believes he's dealing with is but it's not in the state of South Carolina," says Leventis.

"This has been a crazy year and this just culminates into the kind of year we've seen," said Jackson.

The governor said this was the "second lightest list of vetoes" during his time in office.

He eliminated 47 provisos which he says represented waste, inefficiency and misplaced priorities.

Sanford also disputed claims made by opponents that failure to use the federal money means it will be sent to other states.

The Democratic National Committee quickly fired back to Sanford's vetoes, saying that he is "siding with the Rush-Limbaugh-led 'Party of No' wing of the national GOP."

Sanford contends the money increases the nation's debt and devalues the dollar. Critics say Sanford's desire to raise his political profile is coming at the expense of education.

The governor has supporters.

"There should have been some sort of agreement between the governor and legislators on how those stimulus dollars should have been spent and that didn't happen," said Rep. Nikki Haley.

"I think this budget is fundamentally flawed. I've said so on the Senate floor. It seeks to appropriate $350 million that the Obama Administration and the attorney general says the governor has control over," said Sen. Tom Davis. "It seeks to appropriate $350 million that the Obama administration and our state attorney general says only the governor has control over, I think it's highly irresponsible for this legislature to appropriate funds it knows it has no control over."

"This is a time where I think we need to slow down and really spend some time looking at not only how we spend money but how the political process works.  This was a budget that quite honestly was on the fast track," says Rep. Nathan Ballentine, who also backs Sanford's vetoes.

Reported by Jack Kuenzie

Updated by Jeremy Turnage

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