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Senate nulls budget vetoes

Technical schools, public libraries, and health programs were saved from Gov. Mark Sanford's veto pen Thursday, as the South Carolina Senate overturned every veto it considered.

After a late start, senators rolled through the 56 vetoes the House overturned during a nearly 15-hour overnight debate. They got through 29 of those before adjourning, and plan to take up the rest when they return June 29.

Programs spared so far with the necessary two-thirds vote in both chambers include $4 million to run the state's technical schools. In his veto message, Sanford said he wanted to force the schools' administrations to consolidate. But legislators said the savings is uncertain, and the schools are needed more than ever to re-train jobless workers and attract employers.

"This eviscerates the technical college structure," said Senate Education Chairman John Courson, R-Columbia.

The Senate can't change the 51 vetoes upheld by the House. Those cut roughly $50 million from the state's nearly $5 billion spending plan - already $2 billion less than it was two years ago. The House also eliminated a $214 million section to be paid with money that still needs congressional approval. That extended, enhanced match for Medicaid funding may not arrive.

Senate Finance Chairman Hugh Leatherman said he hopes senators continue their streak of overturning every veto.

"There are certain basic services government has to provide," said Leatherman, R-Florence.

He said he's particularly disappointed the House upheld Sanford's $29 million in cuts to the Budget and Control Board, which runs much of the state's bureaucracy. He said he's unsure how state government will function, but Sanford contends the agency could pull money from other accounts to cover the loss.

Programs spared by both chambers include $5 million for ETV, the state's educational television and radio network; $5 million for public libraries that could have resulted in libraries ending Internet access or shuttering; and $1.6 million to keep open the State Museum.

Sanford suggested the museum increase its fees, but legislators said that would require raising ticket costs from $5 to $25 per person, and effectively bar schoolchildren, who now attend for free.

Courson called it unconscionable for the governor to eliminate funding for the Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum, and the House to agree. The museum, which houses military relics dating to the Revolutionary War, is run by the budget board. Courson said he'll work with State Museum officials to see if they can manage it for the next year.

"We have to recognize there are things worth preserving," said Sen. Ronnie Cromer, R-Prosperity. "Us Southerners, that's one thing we're proud of, is our heritage."

Sen. Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg, argued for axing the state arts program: "You want to spend tax money to be entertained!"

But Sen. Wes Hayes noted most of the money goes to arts education in schools. "If you call arts education entertainment, so be it!" the Rock Hill Republican said before the Senate voted to continue the services.

Other cuts overridden include money for programs to reduce the school dropout rate, forest firefighting, basic operations of the Department of Health and Environmental Control, childhood immunizations, and restaurant and septic tank inspections.

Senators hit a speed bump as they considered a $3 million cut to their own staff. More than 70 workers would be laid off or reduced to six months of pay if the cuts took effect, while the rest would be furloughed up to 25 days, said Senate clerk Jeffrey Gossett.

Sen. Shane Massey said he felt the explanation inappropriate.

"All these other people who lost their jobs, they have personal stories too. We just don't know them all," said Massey, R-Edgefield.

The House upheld vetoes to its budget.

The Senate picked up the veto debate after ending a filibuster on a voter ID bill, by refusing to accept a House compromise they argued would limit, rather than expand, voters' ability to cast ballots early.