Transportation bill, budget unresolved

The S.C. General Assembly adjourned Thursday without passing a state budget or restructuring the Transportation Department.

House and Senate leaders were unable to solve disagreements that stalled the Transportation bill all week, and the House held true to its promise not to vote on a finished budget, awaiting final approval, without Transportation reform.

As a result, lawmakers will return in two weeks to try again to sort out their differences.

"The old adage about making sausage is true," said House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston.

The session's final day was marked by posturing, rhetoric and a flurry of news releases. At times, the attacks were personal.

Although much was left unfinished, the House and Senate had a last-minute breakthrough on a third bill holding up the budget: changes in the workers' compensation law.

Legislators voted to give themselves more time to work out their differences on Transportation reform, agreeing to reopen the debate for three days starting June 19. They would return later to deal with gubernatorial vetoes.

Gov. Mark Sanford said the Legislature made some progress this year, hailing the House for continuing to push for more tax cuts and Transportation Department reform.

"There's obviously a lot of work left to be done," said Joel Sawyer, Sanford's spokesman. "Is it preferable to get everything done before today? Yes. But getting it right is important."

Though there were plenty of disputes Thursday, restructuring the Transportation Department was the issue that held up the state budget.

Harrell said the Senate never was interested in restructuring. Senate President Pro Tempore Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston, said the House "propaganda pump," much like that of the Nazis, was repeating big lies until they were believed.

The issue, both sides said, is money.

House negotiators wanted $40 million for road construction and maintenance, an amount that eventually would increase to $200 million a year. Half of that money would go to the state infrastructure bank, half to the Transportation Department.

Senate Finance chairman Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, said he was disappointed the Legislature could not finish the budget, the one bill it is required constitutionally to pass.

Lawmakers did approve a backup plan Thursday, a stopgap funding bill that keeps state government running at current spending levels. That means no services will be cut if a budget is not approved by July 1.

But it also means no money for any of the priorities in next year's budget, including preparing the state to become a center of hydrogen research, boosting drug funding for HIV patients, and putting more state troopers on the road. It also means none of the $176 million in grocery sales and income tax cuts promised taxpayers.

Harrell said he could live with those consequences to get needed changes at the Transportation Department, even if it meant not approving a budget until next January.