Gov. Haley Trims the Fat

July 12, 2012 

Part 2 of 2:

Yesterday, we wrote about some of the recent budget vetoes by Gov. Nikki Haley that are reckless, rash and go too far in her crusade to shrink state government – specifically, her unilateral dissolutions of the S.C. Arts Commission and the S.C. Sea Grant Consortium. Today, we write about a few of the governor’s vetoes that hit the mark, or at least get a bit closer, including one that directly affects the Grand Strand.

It’s been a decent year for the state budget. Revenues have increased by about $1 billion over last year, mostly because of increased tax collections in an improving economy. But, even though Kool & the Gang are in town tonight, we’re not celebrating good times just yet. Many vital state agencies are still dealing with budgets that are 10, 20 or 30 percent lower than just a few years ago, before the bottom fell out of our economy. The Public Safety Department, for instance, has seen its state funding drop from about $87 million in 2008 to $67 million in the coming year’s budget. The Department of Health and Environmental Control has seen an even larger drop, from $147 million in state funding in 2008 to about $94 million next year. It’s a similar story across the board, from Education to Health and Human Services to Natural Resources.

These are all agencies that make up the core of our government and keep it running. We’re still below the level of funding we should be at in many of these areas, education and infrastructure spending in particular. So in this environment, it’s imperative that we continue to shore up what’s necessary and continue to prune out what is not. And that is where the governor’s veto pen comes into play. Gov. Haley’s powerful spotlight can highlight like little else the wasteful and ill-advised spending that seeks to clog our state spending plan. While we don’t always agree with the items she chooses to turn that spotlight on, we are fully behind her efforts to create a more efficient system for our residents.

And the governor is entirely right in her contention that this is not the time for pork barrel spending. The state simply cannot afford to carelessly spend our tax dollars on the pet projects of legislators. The governor struck a number of these from the budget, and hopefully legislators will agree to turn the money to better use. With a still uncertain economy ahead of us, one year of better budget news should not signal a return to profligate spending on noncritical and provincial expenses.

Much as we appreciate the program and those who are working so hard to bring it to reality, the North Myrtle Beach Area Historical Museum falls into that category. A worthy effort that deserves our local support, it is nevertheless not a state priority and as such was rightfully stripped of its $300,000 grant. There are simply other, more important areas that state money should be directed toward.

It was also heartening to see Gov. Haley veto the absurd decision by legislators to divert federal mortgage aid money into business incentive funds. The money should go to those struggling homeowners for whom it was intended, not to pad the accounts of corporations. The plan to do otherwise was a callous, short-sighted and asinine move from the start, and it’s to the governor’s credit that she recognizes it as such even as she continues to campaign for more jobs.

Finally, one area where we partly agree with the governor is on her concern about using one-time money to pay for ongoing expenses, in this case raises for teachers. As Haley points out in her veto message, using nonrecurring money to fund what many teachers will assume is a permanent salary increase is simply bad budgeting. Legislative budget writers should know better. We don’t dispute that our educators deserve a bump in their paychecks, but if one-time money was all that legislators could find, a better solution might have been a one-time bonus for teachers, rather than a salary increase with no a plan for paying for it in the coming years.

That being said, the governor’s veto of the funds for the raises without also vetoing the accompanying proviso that directs local school districts to provide the raise is similarly bad policy. It throws an unfunded mandate to local school districts already stretched to the limit, requiring them to provide the raise to teachers without providing the money to do so.

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