It would be hard to argue that of all the workplaces our state government maintains, the Statehouse complex is the least secure. A decade ago, the Statehouse underwent a three-year, $15 million earthquake-proofing renovation, complete with extensive security upgrades. Security cameras watch over elevator lobbies and hallways in the six office buildings that share a pastoral city block with the Statehouse; additional security measures were put in place after 9-11. A separate police force protects the Statehouse and grounds, and the House and Senate have their own security staff.
Compare that to what you find at most state agencies, some of which rent space in private office buildings that are designed to encourage public access, or even at our colleges and universities.
Better uses for money
So when Gov. Mark Sanford argued last week that there are better uses for $5.3 million in tax money than to buy a fancy new remote-access system for the underground parking garage and add cameras and other security equipment to the adjacent office buildings, he made a legitimate point. Indeed, we could probably protect a lot more people if we gave that money to a local police department, or to prosecutors, or to the courts so they could try criminals and get them in prison sooner.
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And to suggest, as House Speaker Bobby Harrell and Senate President Pro Tempore Glenn McConnell did, that the security upgrades are needed to protect the schoolchildren who tour the Statehouse is a bit of a stretch; the Statehouse is protected. This project is about protecting the taxpayer-subsidized, parking-by-permit-only garage and the office buildings, which see few student visitors and far less public traffic than, say, public health departments or DMV offices. (If officials are worried that someone could drive a truck bomb into the garage, park it near the Statehouse entrance and detonate it, that could be guarded against much less expensively by hiring an extra security guard to actually watch the cars as they drive in.)
The fact that the state faces bigger public safety threats doesn't necessarily mean that SLED Chief Robert Stewart and Public Safety Director Jim Schweitzer are wrong when they say the Statehouse complex needs attention. If anything, it suggests that we have been ignoring too many public safety needs.
You could make the "there are more important needs" argument about countless expenditures our Legislature has approved, from local festivals we subsidize while bridges crumble to the scholarships we hand out to the children of middle-class voters while refusing to provide the early childhood education we know could help poor kids start to school on an even footing with those future scholarship recipients. In fact, I complain frequently about poor priority-setting by the Legislature -- as does Sanford.
But Sanford can do more than complain. He actually has the power to do something about our state's misplaced priorities, or at least to try. And in this case, he utterly failed to do that.
Stewart and other top law enforcement officials have been cogitating over this security upgrade for more than a decade. The Legislature approved $6 million to pay for it in 2006. Sanford could have vetoed that funding -- and any other individual line items he considered wasteful -- and made the point that money would be better spent on police, for instance. Instead, he took the most irresponsible action of his career: He vetoed the entire state budget -- which would have forced a shutdown of the government if the Legislature had not been responsible enough to override his veto -- all because it exceeded a spending limit he pulled out of the air.
Sanford did note in his 2006 veto message several expenditures he considered excessive. The $6 million State House security project was not among them. Nor, his spokesman confirms, had he ever objected to that spending until he read about it in the newspaper a few days ago.
He did veto a proviso in this year's budget that exempted the project from regular procurement rules. But his complaint had nothing to do with the expenditure itself; his message reads as though he didn't even realize what the project being exempted was. Instead, he rightly complained that the proviso required two legislators, Harrell and McConnell, to sign off on the spending, in apparent violation of the state constitution. (He also argued that the proviso exempted all "homeland security" projects from normal procurement rules, which it clearly did not do.)
The governor can try all day to downplay his latest rant -- while repeating it -- but this is vintage Sanford: Don't sully your philosophical purity trying to win legislators and other power brokers over to your position; attack them, and guarantee you never accomplish anything. Mark Sanford isn't our chief executive; think of him as our blogger-in-chief, sitting in his pajamas and bedroom slippers firing off electronic spitballs to the delight of the populists (Go git them politicians, governor!) and the libertarians (Spending bad! Spending very bad!), but oblivious and irrelevant to how the real world works.
The decision to proceed with this project was made more than a year ago, and Sanford didn't lift a finger to stop it, or even to object. Stewart and Schweitzer -- whom Sanford considers members of his Cabinet -- helped announce the project's upcoming start at an Oct. 3 news conference, and the contract was signed Oct. 8. The following day, Sanford had his little outburst.
Great TV. Lousy governing.