COLUMBIA — Gov. Nikki Haley issued some reckless budget vetoes last week, according to several Democratic South Carolina lawmakers who said Monday that she effectively shifted a $10 million expense for teacher pay raises onto local school boards and didn’t even take the time to speak to officials with at least one agency she is trying to eliminate.
Among the $67.5 million in spending that Haley vetoed was the appropriation for the South Carolina Commission of the Arts for this budget year. Since the budget year has already begun, the state comptroller told the agency to incur no more expenses, effectively shutting the commission down until the Legislature returns next week to take up the governor’s vetoes.
Haley’s 2010 general election opponent, state Sen. Vincent Sheheen, said the governor’s decision on the Arts Commission was based on her own whims, not what’s best for the state.
“She may not care if she makes us look like some kind of third-world country. But I care,” said Sheheen of Camden, who held the news conference Monday with two other Democratic lawmakers in the sweltering parking lot of the Arts Commission’s building to emphasize that the agency’s doors were shut.
But the Arts Commission veto shouldn’t have come as a surprise. The governor targeted the agency for elimination in her first State of the State address and vetoed the commission’s funding last year too.
In her veto message this year, Haley said the public, not the government, should decide what kind of art gets money. She also said the Arts Commission spent 30 percent of its money on administration, employees and operating expenses. The agency disputed that figure.
Agency leaders said they could have clarified the figure if the governor had spoken with them. Haley’s staff said her office spoke to the commission administrators last year and nothing had happened to change her mind since then.
“While the governor loves the arts, she does not believe the Arts Commission, which uses significant taxpayer dollars to fund administrative costs, is a core function of government – and she has been clear about this since her first State of the State address,” Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey said.
The Democratic legislators also criticized Haley for vetoing $10 million meant to give teachers a 2 percent raise. The governor said she didn’t oppose the raises, but she did oppose lawmakers’ decision to use one-time money to pay for them. Haley kept nearly $39 million for teacher raises in the budget. Her staff has suggested that if the rest of the raise money had come from a recurring source that goes into the budget every year, she would have supported it.
Sen. Joel Lourie said since the governor didn’t delete the clauses that mandated paying the raises, local governments will now how to figure out to pay for them.
“She passes the burden on to local school districts who will have to raise taxes or cut services elsewhere,” the Columbia Democrat said.
About a dozen supporters of the arts came to the news conference. Haley’s veto could leave South Carolina as the only state without an arts commission funded by the government. Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback deleted funding for his state’s art commission in 2011, but lawmakers brought back $700,000 for this budget year.
A “Rally for the Arts” is being planned for the Statehouse on July 16, the day before the House returns to consider the vetoes. Organizers are asking artists to perform, draw or play music.
Ken May, director of the state Arts Commission, said he still isn’t sure what he or his employees should be doing. State officials can’t recall an agency ever being shut down during a budget year.
“We’re still waiting to learn exactly what our status is,” May said. “We don’t know if we are on unpaid leave or whether we are terminated.”