John Kuhn, one of 16 Republicans seeking his party’s nomination in South Carolina’s special House election, falsely claims former Gov. Mark Sanford “supported a massive earmark spending bill.” Sanford in fact vetoed the bill, saying it was packed with “politically-driven, pork barrel spending,” including some at Kuhn’s request.
The ad also says Kuhn “opposed that bill and fought to stop wasteful spending.” But that claim only goes so far. It’s true that Kuhn filibustered the bill in 2003, objecting to its cost. But before killing the bill, Kuhn supported amendments that increased its costs and offered a compromise that could have cleared it for passage. Days after killing the bill, Kuhn said that the bill “will pass next year after we’ve had some time to debate it.”
It did pass — and Sanford vetoed it.
The 1st Congressional District race has attracted national attention because of two candidates: a Republican who few thought would ever run for office again (Sanford) and a Democrat who has never run for office (Comedian Stephen Colbert’s sister, Elizabeth Colbert-Busch).
But it is Kuhn, a former state senator, who’s first to draw our attention.
The ad says that three of Kuhn’s Republican opponents in the race — state Rep. Chip Limehouse, state Sen. Larry Grooms and Sanford — “supported a massive earmark spending bill that cost taxpayers $250 million for special interest projects.” He’s right about Limehouse and Grooms, but wrong about Sanford.
The TV ad gives the number and title of the “massive earmark spending bill” as “H3899/Life Sciences Act 2003-2004.” But these are actually two separate bills that would later become merged into one:
- House bill 3899 was the South Carolina Research University Restructuring and Infrastructure Act of 2003. The bill, introduced April 1, 2003, would have removed South Carolina’s three research universities from oversight of the Commission on Higher Education and provided $140 million in state bond money for research, according to The State, a newspaper in Columbia, S.C.
- Senate bill 560 was the South Carolina Life Sciences Act. The bill, introduced April 3, 2003, would have provided tax credits for pharmaceutical and medical manufacturers that make a capital investment of $100 million or more, create at least 200 new, full-time jobs, and pay at least 150 percent of the state’s per capita income.
In 2003, then-Gov. Sanford supported the Life Sciences Act, but opposed the higher education bill — in large part because it would have allowed the University of South Carolina-Sumter to offer four-year degrees. The USC-Sumter expansion was contrary to “the governor’s plan to require its increased collaboration with an adjacent technical college,” as The Post and Courier explained in an editorial that said the proposed college expansion was wasteful. As the 2003 legislative session was winding down, The State (of Columbia, S.C.) wrote on May 28, 2003, that Sanford threatened to veto the higher education bill, which the paper said “appears dead.”
On June 4, 2003, in a final attempt to pass both bills before the end of the session, the Senate sought to incorporate the higher education bill as a provision of the Life Sciences Act. Kuhn opposed the higher education amendment and staged a filibuster — killing the Life Sciences Act for the 2003 session.
In a June 6, 2003, article on the bill’s failure to pass, The Post and Courier (of Charleston, S.C.) quoted Kuhn as saying, “I do not believe in the middle of an economic crisis is a good time to blow $250 million for any project, let alone higher education.”
Kuhn’s successful filibuster is the basis of the ad’s claim that “John Kuhn opposed that bill and fought to stop wasteful spending.”
But before he killed the bill, Kuhn supported two amendments that added to its cost and that were opposed by Sanford. Legislative records show Kuhn sponsored an amendment that would have provided up to $100,000 toward the establishment of a four-year culinary arts program at Trident Technical College, and he voted to provide the USC-Sumter up to $100,000 to implement its four-year degree programs.
Also, The Post and Courier reported that Kuhn “offered a compromise that would have delivered the same amount of money to local universities, but split it up differently.”
In a June 8, 2003, article days after the session ended, the paper quoted Kuhn as saying, “I offered a compromise, and they wouldn’t accept it. I didn’t want to compromise because I didn’t want this but was willing to work with them. He [the House Ways and Means chairman] knows this will pass next year after we’ve had some time to debate it.”
In his 2004 State of the State address, Sanford again voiced support for a Life Sciences Act, calling it and other bills “additional arrows in the quiver to help with economic development.”
The governor also criticized lawmakers for seeking to expand the University of South Carolina’s Sumter campus by attaching that provision to the Life Sciences Act — a common legislative maneuver of combining a controversial bill (the higher education bill) with a popular one (the Life Sciences Act).
Sanford, Jan. 21, 2004: Let’s take a look at this process. First of all, the president of USC is opposed to it. Second, the USC Board of Trustees is opposed to it. Third, the Commission on Higher Education is opposed to it. So what happens? The local delegation tacks it onto a bill nobody wants to vote against and tries to get it passed. That is exactly the problem we have in South Carolina with respect to higher ed — namely that politics, not a statewide plan, too often drives the decisions we make.
The Legislature was put on notice, but Sanford was ignored.
About a week later, the Senate completed what it had started in June 2003: the upper chamber amended the Life Sciences Act and sent it to the House. There was no Senate roll call vote on the Life Sciences Act, so there is no record of Kuhn’s official position. His campaign says that he opposed the bill in 2004, as he did in 2003, but the legislative record shows that the Senate on Jan. 28, 2004, approved it and sent it to the House. And, in a story on the Senate’s approval, the Associated Press quoted Kuhn as saying the delay caused by his filibuster had improved the bill. Sanford still opposed it.
Associated Press, Jan. 28, 2004: This bill became fodder for a filibuster by Sen. John Kuhn, R-Charleston, that kept senators from wrapping up much of their work last year.
“I’m still not happy with the idea of borrowing in the middle of recession,” Kuhn said. But the delay in passing the bill “showed what we could do to a bill to improve it.” It now has spending safeguards, Kuhn said.
For instance, the state Commerce Department would have to certify the research projects are economically viable, Kuhn said.
Parts of the bill already have been through the House, which could accept the Senate’s changes and send the bill to Sanford or disagree and send it to a conference committee to work out the differences.
In the end, Sanford will have to decide whether he’ll veto it all.
“It’s unfortunate that bills we need from an economic development standpoint are made to suffer by political tack-ons,” [Sanford spokesman Will] Folks said.
The House approved the bill as amended by the Senate 96-15 on March 4, 2004. Sanford vetoed it on March 16.
According to the Associated Press, Sanford said: “This veto is all about protecting the taxpayers of South Carolina from politically-driven, pork barrel spending. More importantly, it’s about changing the way things have always been done in state government.”
In his veto message to the Legislature, the governor listed seven reasons for his veto, beginning with “financing for specific projects.” He opposed the bill because it provided funding to establish a culinary arts program at Trident and an international convention center in Myrtle Beach. He also objected to giving research universities access to state bonds — saying it would raise the state’s bond limit by 0.5 percent and add “an estimated $25 million annually to the debt service.” He also opposed provisions that would allow USC-Sumter to offer four-year degrees.
The House (81-24) and Senate (40-5) easily voted to override the governor. Limehouse and Grooms both voted to override Sanford. Kuhn did not vote. The record states: “Senator KUHN was granted a leave of absence for today.”
The governor briefly considered filing a lawsuit to stop the Life Sciences Act from taking effect on the grounds that it may have violated the state Constitution’s requirement that legislation be limited to a single subject. But he did not file suit.
Kuhn spoke to us on the phone and defended his ad by saying it is about what happened in 2003, when Sanford supported the Life Sciences Act and Kuhn filibustered it in the Senate. He notes that the ad starts out this way: “In 2003, Mark Sanford, Chip Limehouse and Larry Grooms supported a massive earmark spending bill that cost taxpayers $250 million.” Kuhn told us: “Everything we’re talking about [in the ad] is 2003.”
When reminded about the governor’s veto, Kuhn said: “That’s a different year and a different situation.”
Sorry, we’re not buying it. What happened in 2003 didn’t “cost taxpayers $250 million,” as the ad says. It didn’t cost the taxpayers anything until 2004 and only over Sanford’s veto.
– Eugene Kiely