South Carolina legislative leaders said an agreement on a $5.6 billion spending plan is expected to be finalized today and sent to Gov. Mark Sanford, setting up a showdown over the disputed $350 million in federal stimulus aid.
Tuesday, the House made changes to the Senate version of the budget, including adding millions for prisons, public defenders and social services.
Senate Finance chairman Hugh Leatherman said it was likely the Senate would agree to those changes today.
Leatherman said it would mark the first time in his 29 years in the Senate that the budget did not require a team of House and Senate negotiators to work out a final compromise. It also would allow lawmakers to take up budget vetoes prior to a proposed May 21 adjournment.
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But the budget leaves one big question outstanding: Can lawmakers force Gov. Mark Sanford to request $350 million in disputed federal aid?
The budget compels Sanford to spend the stimulus and gives him five days to secure the money. The timetable sets up what appears to be an inevitable legal battle over the money, in which the General Assembly would be in a position to sue the governor if he refuses to tap the money.
"It looks like we're going to have to let the Supreme Court decide," said Rep. Dan Cooper, R-Anderson, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.
But during floor debate some House members pushed for an alternative budget plan drafted by Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-Laurens that did not use the stimulus money. Allies argued the state should not seek a court fight with the governor.
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