Bus veto outrageous

Let's make the most charitable assumption we can about Gov. Mark Sanford's veto of the school-bus bill: He knew the Legislature would override it.

The bill the governor vetoed was the first serious legislative effort in years to upgrade the state's ancient school bus fleet. On average, state buses are 14 years old, with some 1984 models still on the road. Many buses have more than 400,000 miles on the odometer. It not only is the oldest collection of school buses in the nation, it also is the most polluting.

During the recently completed session, lawmakers finally agreed to buy more buses. The bill requires the state to purchase enough new school buses -- about 380 a year -- to replace the entire fleet every 15 years. The bill also limits most school-bus rides to 90 minutes, adds stops for young children so they don't have to walk as far to catch the bus, and requires more training for school bus drivers.

All these changes are woefully overdue. Many of the buses that will be retired were unsafe to ride. Some are at risk of catching fire; others had holes in the floor through which exhaust fumes could enter, and most lacked the safety features found on new buses.

The bill passed by the General Assembly would ensure that, over time, every student in the state could ride to school in a safe, reliable, non-polluting bus. That is the bill Sanford vetoed.

Maybe he felt secure that lawmakers would override the veto, which they did, easily, on Thursday just before the session adjourned. Maybe Sanford knew his veto would amount to little more than a political gesture, a wink and a nod to his supporters.

But how could he take that chance on an issue so important to the welfare of the state's schoolchildren?

Sanford, pandering to fellow libertarians and admirers who mistake empty gestures for acts of principle, said he vetoed the bill because he thinks local districts, not the state, should operate their own bus fleets.

That issue may be worth debating; South Carolina is the only state in the nation that owns and maintains a statewide fleet of school buses. But where was Sanford on that issue at the beginning of the session? We don't remember hearing a call for school bus reforms in his State of the State speech or his inaugural address in January. We don't remember a personal lobbying campaign by the governor to give districts control over school buses.

No, Sanford didn't devote any time or political capital to changing state policy. His veto was simply a bone cynically tossed to those who believe government -- all government -- is the enemy.

For the state's top elected official to engage in such sophistry is both sad and outrageous.