COLUMBIA — Gov. Nikki Haley’s budget vetoes include wiping out two agencies, the state Arts Commission and Sea Grant Consortium, in an unprecedented move that puts 38 people in limbo.
The governor’s 81 vetoes, tallying $67.5 million, would also cut money for teachers’ pay raises, designate less money to a Commerce fund for closing economic development deals, and cut items she calls wasteful projects and earmarks.
That includes money for a North Myrtle Beach museum, preserving African-American history sites in Charleston, a commuter mass transit service between Camden and Columbia, prescription drugs for AIDS patients, a nonprofit that serves sexual assault victims, parks, and buying land to preserve the nation’s first community of freed slaves on Hilton Head Island.
“This was a disappointment. It’s embarrassing for them. It’s embarrassing for me, and it should be infuriating to the taxpayers,” Haley said Friday, in explaining the vetoes she delivered minutes before her midnight Thursday deadline. “This is taking bacon home to their people. I know the people of this state don’t want it. The people of this state want tax relief.”
Senate Finance Chairman Hugh Leatherman said the term “pork project” is a misnomer. He said the projects represent investments in different parts of the state.
Haley alleged the money was doled out to senators in an effort to buy their votes to defeat her priority legislation. Leatherman called that absurd – a chuckle was his only other response. Even a key ally in the Senate said he has no evidence that happened.
Haley’s vetoes remove all funding for the state Arts Commission and Sea Grant Consortium. The small agencies were slated to receive a combined $2.4 million in state money out of the Legislature’s $6.7 billion budget plan. Haley wiped out federal money for the agencies, too.
Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom said Friday the elimination of agencies five days into a fiscal year creates an unprecedented situation. He told their directors not to incur any more expenses, and he’s seeking legal guidance on how to treat employees who did nothing wrong.
“Regardless of how worthy you think an agency is … I don’t want to see those employees left out in the cold,” Eckstrom said. “I regret those two agencies were given one day to deal with this.”
Haley eliminated funding for both agencies last year, too. But the Legislature overrode those vetoes before the fiscal year started. This year, legislators didn’t finalize their budget plan until last Thursday. A continuing resolution Haley signed that day kept government running at 2011-12 levels while she considered her vetoes.
The new budget took effect with the delivery of her vetoes.
House Speaker Bobby Harrell is calling legislators back July 17 to consider overrides. He had planned to wait until mid-September. But Harrell said the two agencies’ predicament, as well as the money for teacher raises, should be addressed sooner.
Because the budget originates in the House, it must take up the vetoes first. The Senate is coming back July 18, said Senate President Pro Tem John Courson.
Meanwhile, the two agencies are in limbo. Even if the Legislature overrides the vetoes, it’s unclear whether employees could ever get paid for the interim time, Eckstrom said.
On the Arts Commission, Haley said she would rather let taxpayers decide what charities they want to support. She said it’s not a government function.
But its director, Ken May, said without a public agency focused on the arts, rural areas of the state won’t have access. A major initiative is awarding grants to public schools to provide all students “a basic education in the arts,” he said.
Haley disagreed, noting the State Museum provides traveling exhibits. She referred to a photo display on her historical win as the state’s first female and first minority governor. But the exhibit is not provided for free. According to the State Museum’s website, it costs $300 a month.
Haley also vetoed $10 million in one-time money allocated to school districts to help boost teachers’ salaries by 2 percent. She left in place $39 million designated in recurring money, as well as budget clauses mandating that districts provide the 2 percent raises, as well as a step increase for years of experience – increases frozen during the economic downturn. Haley called the use of one-time money for salaries irresponsible.