Hodges is going out
a fighter for education
By Andy Brack
S.C. Statehouse Report
DEC. 1, 2002 - - Like a gunslinger down to his last bullet, Gov.
Jim Hodges has one big final showdown before he turns over the reins
of government to Mark Sanford.
With a massive $348 million shortfall facing state government at
mid-year, the open question is whether Hodges, who built his tenure
on improving education, will be able to protect it from budget cuts
when the Legislature convenes in special session next week.
Odds are Hodges will make a valiant effort, but fail because Republicans
are holding a stacked deck.
While the General Assembly convenes Dec. 9, a meeting of the state
Budget and Control Board on the following day is where the showdown
really starts. During that meeting, all eyes will be on State Treasurer
Grady Patterson and outgoing Comptroller General Jim Lander, both
Democrats. Either could side with the two Republicans on the board
- - Senate Finance Chairman Hugh Leatherman of Florence and Rep.
Bobby Harrell of Charleston - - on a plan to implement across-the-board
cuts to generate the savings to keep state government balanced.
It's a good bet Patterson or Lander will side with the GOP. Why?
Because of the pressure they're getting from Wall Street. If the
state doesn't take decisive, quick action - - and a special legislative
session could be anything but quick - - South Carolina could lose
its much-heralded AAA credit rating. That would force state costs
up even more because it wouldn't be able to get the best rate to
If the budget board votes for across-the-board cuts, the General
Assembly would have to develop an alternative spending plan within
five days. Otherwise, the budget board's cuts would go into effect
automatically, according to state law.
The easiest thing, of course, would be for the General Assembly
to let the cuts occur and do nothing. That essentially would be
another win for Republicans, who have been calling for across-the-board
cuts since September when it was clear the economy hadn't turned
But if Republicans wanted to poke Hodges in the political eye,
they could pass an alternative that was a package of cuts and an
increase in the state's low cigarette tax. Business and advocacy
groups are behind an increase and Republicans would have a lot of
cover in doing it before next year. Additionally, such an increase
would fall during Hodges' watch as governor, not on Sanford's. If
the GOP refrained from any other tax increases for four years, Sanford
would be able to run for re-election on a platform that he had not
raised taxes (although he does advocate increasing gas taxes to
replace income taxes.)
So the question becomes why did Hodges do it - - why did he call
the General Assembly back into session?
We think it's because he wanted to leave office on his own terms
- - as a governor who fought tooth and nail to improve education
and who fought to the last moment to protect it.
If Hodges loses the across-the-board cut vote in the Budget and
Control Board, he can say he offered a plan to keep education intact
and shield it from a $90 million cut. If the board doesn't make
the sweeping cut, then the Republican-led legislature will have
to deal with the problem. And if they cut education any, Democrats
will be able to holler Republicans really aren't committed to education
- - that when it got tough, they voted to hurt the state's students.
You might not like Jim Hodges and might think he's a lousy politician.
But you've got to admire him for one thing - - he sticks to his
guns. Right down to the last bullet.
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