Commentary: Budget battle doesn't undermine Sanford's power

This editorial appeared in The State (Columbia, S.C.).

Gov. Mark Sanford doesn't like state income taxes, but he would never dream of telling his Revenue Department to stop collecting the tax; he knows he doesn't have that option.

If the Legislature ever manages to raise the cigarette tax, and then overrides Mr. Sanford's veto, his Revenue Department will not have the option of ignoring the law and refusing to collect that tax either.

That's because it's the job of a legislature – not just this Legislature, but any legislature – to determine how much revenue will and will not be available to the state, where that revenue will and will not come from and how it will and will not be spent; and it is the job of the executive branch to collect that revenue.

Our Legislature does a lot to disempower governors, but it is doing nothing of the sort when it orders the governor to "take all action necessary and required by the (federal stimulus act) ... in order to secure the receipt of the funds recognized and authorized for appropriation pursuant to this section."

This feels like something new and different only because it is more overt, and heavy-handed, than usual. And that is of necessity. In ordinary circumstances, it would be redundant for the Legislature to insert such language into a state budget. But the circumstances are not ordinary: Neither this nor any previous governor has been traipsing around the country declaring that he will not take the actions necessary for the state to collect income taxes or cigarette taxes.

Mr. Sanford acts as though the Congress has given governors some new authority to appropriate – or not appropriate – funds under the stimulus act. That simply is not the case. The Congress frequently writes laws that authorize governors or state agencies to draw down federal funds. That doesn't change the fact that a state legislature is the branch of government empowered to set budgetary policy.

To read the complete editorial, visit The State.