As Published by Aiken Standard on 11/5/2009
By ROB NOVIT
To watch the full-length video of the Aiken Standard's interview with Gov. Mark Sanford, scroll down or click here.
With just over a year and one legislative session left in his two-term tenure as governor, Mark Sanford wants the public to get involved in trying to get meaningful change enacted in state government.
The governor spoke at the Aiken Kiwanis Club on Thursday and later met with editors and reporters at the Aiken Standard.
The reason he's touring the state, Sanford told Kiwanis members, is to urge every person to talk to other people and continue that process as a way to get the Legislature to move on government restructuring, to remove budget authority from the Budget and Control Board and to put an end to electing all or most constitutional officers.
"Between now and the next session, you can make a remarkable difference," Sanford said.
He drew a laugh when he pointed out that few people could identify the five members of the Budget and Control Board (he's one of them). South Carolina is the only state with such a board, which has the authority to cut the state budget in mid-year, based on economic forecasts.
"How much accountability is there in a group of five people you don't know?" Sanford asked. "The fundamental flaw is that the buck stops nowhere."
Shortly after the Kiwanis meeting, the S.C. Supreme Court ruled that an ethics investigation related to Sanford's travel can be made public. According to the Associated Press, the ruling can clear the way for legislators looking at impeachment to review a report on the probe. Following his admission in June of a relationship with an Argentinian woman, Sanford's travel expenses have undergone scrutiny from the media and lawmakers of his own Republican party.
Sanford's lawyers argue that the governor should have the chance to respond first before an upcoming report on a State Ethics Commission criminal investigation is released to the S.C. House. Later in the day, Sanford stated his position on that issue, using similar arguments he made on his last visit to Aiken several weeks ago.
Every governor in recent history has used business class on airlines for state travel, he said, as has the Department of Commerce secretary and senior members of his staff. A legislative audit committee looked into those issues and found no material wrongdoing. No one knew they were breaking any laws, said Sanford. Ironically, he added, his own travel budget is 70 percent less than that of his predecessors.
"We have always been for complete transparency," Sanford said. "But the preliminary report doesn't tell you anything, just a recap of the headlines. ... It's like the prosecution is giving its case, but I don't get to tell my side of the story."
After his admission of adultery, Sanford said he was horribly embarrassed and did consider resigning, as many legislators and the members of the public were asking him to do. That would have been the easier course, but his friends encouraged him to stay in office to see whether he could help make the needed changes in the government structure.
Other topics covered during the day included the Savannah River Site and public education. Sanford called the decision in Washington not to open the nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada a huge mistake that hurts SRS. He called that action nothing more than the kind of politics that the Obama administration had promised to avoid.
SRS "has always been a national dumping site," Sanford said.
On the issue of public education, the governor said there is no chance that the General Assembly will repeal or revise Act 388, the property tax reform measure that shifted property tax funding for K-12 education to the state. The economic downturn has cost school districts millions of dollars in the past two years, although stimulus money resulted in a revenue loss of less than 1 percent, Sanford contends.
But any changes in Act 388 will only occur when the economy improves, he said. Legislators won't reverse a structure now that could result in tax increases for property owners.
He supports merit pay for teachers but argues there is little chance of significant improvement in the public schools without extended choice options, such as tuition tax credits or vouchers.
"Change won't happen without market consequences," Sanford said.
Asked about his effectiveness as governor, he said that will be determined over time by people impacted by the policies of his administration. Sanford cited his work in pushing through tax cuts, tort reform efforts, the land set aside for conservation, the needed changes at the Department of Motor Vehicles and other agencies.
The state does have high unemployment, caused in part by people moving to South Carolina from other hard-hit states, "but we have 6,000 more people working today than we did six-and-a-half years ago," Sanford said.