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Gov. Sanford Vetoes Legislation Increasing Court Fees Says Bill Example of Misguided Budgetary Dependence

May 12, 2010

STATE OF SOUTH CAROLINA
OFFICE OF THE GOVERNOR
MARK SANFORD, GOVERNOR

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact:        Ben Fox  803-734-2100  bfox@gov.sc.gov

Gov. Sanford Vetoes Legislation Increasing Court Fees
BILL AN EXAMPLE OF MISGUIDED BUDGETARY DEPENDENCE ON ‘BACK-DOOR TAX INCREASES’

Columbia, S.C. – May 12, 2010 – Gov. Mark Sanford joined legislators today to challenge the roughly $45 million in “back-door tax increases” currently in the budget, and to veto H.3161, legislation that would in large part fund the Judicial Branch through fee increases.

“At the end of the day, we believe building our state’s budget on the shifting sands of tax and fee increases is unwise, unsafe, and flies in the face of commonsense budgeting * and we are vetoing these specific court fee increases for the following reasons.

“First and most importantly, ‘fee increases’ is just another term for ‘tax increases.’ In our view it’s both unwise and unfair to force the state’s citizens to pay for the government’s poor budgeting decisions, especially in such a challenging economic climate. This administration consistently warned during good budget times that failure to plan for the inevitable tough times ahead would necessitate painful budget cuts and increase the appetite for misguided tax and fee hikes on working South Carolinians. Yet the state’s budget grew by an unsustainable 40 percent from 2004 to 2008, and today we’re faced with the entirely predictable and largely preventable result of massive budget cuts and increased taxes and fees.

“Second, using tax and fee increases to plug budget holes in core functions of government like the Judicial Branch represents just another way of ignoring the need to make long overdue, cost-saving reforms to government. Streamlining nonessential activities and implementing other cost-saving measures is a much sounder option for fully funding the Judiciary rather than raising fees. For example, eliminating state funding for the Arts Commission and the State Museum would generate nearly $6 million, added to another $4.6 million available that’s currently directed to the Senate’s budget, and other commonsense proposals like merging Corrections and the Department of Probation, Pardon, and Parole would provide much more than the $16.5 million that this bill is expected to generate.

“Third, the tax increases proposed in this bill would unfairly punish the people of this state. All South Carolinians benefit from an efficient and the accessible court system, and we appreciate the hard work that Chief Justice Jean Toal and her team do in a certainly challenging job. Yet if this bill is enacted, South Carolina’s civil action court filing fees and motions fees in civil and family court will be pushed significantly higher than neighboring Georgia and North Carolina * moving South Carolina up to eighth in the nation for the highest civil action filing fees and tenth nationally for motions fees.

“As well, increasing the Judiciary’s reliance on fees instead of general fund dollars only raises the bar of access to justice for lower income South Carolinians, and could in fact create a two-tiered system of justice with only those who can afford access getting it. With all this in mind, I’d ask budget writers to work with the Chief Justice and craft a sustainable Judicial Branch budget that does not rely on exorbitant fee increases.”

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