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Haley decries ‘pork’ projects

tdominick@thestate.com

Gov. Nikki Haley said Tuesday that her budget vetoes target state funding for parks, museums and economic development groups that should be paid for locally.

More than 80 percent of the $30.2 million in state spending that Haley vetoed came from one-time spending proposals, including more than $5 million in what she called “old-fashioned pork.”

Gov. Nikki Haley’s budget vetoes could impact two Grand Strand projects.

Haley slashed $250,000 for converting the former Horry County Museum into a Conway banquet hall and $100,000 for building a Myrtle Beach playground designed for children with disabilities.

The improving economy has emboldened lawmakers to try and pay for local projects with money from the state’s $7 billion-plus general fund, Haley told reporters. “What we saw was the rebirth of earmarks.”

But lawmakers – including Senate Finance Committee chairman Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence – said the budget reflects the state’s needs.

“Earmarks are in the eye of the beholder,” said state Sen. John Courson, R-Richland, who sits on the Finance Committee.

Conway Mayor Alys Lawson said city officials set aside $500,000 for renovating the old museum in their most recent budget, but the state money would allow them to avoid completing the construction in stages.

“It’s matching funds,” she said. “So it’s not like we’re just having our hands held out. We’re just asking [the state] to help us with the project.”

Lawson was pleased the General Assembly approved the money, but disappointed the governor didn’t see the project as an economic development and historic preservation tool.

“I had just gotten excited last week when it made it through the first gauntlet,” she said. “It’s never done ‘til it’s done.”

Myrtle Beach Mayor John Rhodes formed a nonprofit organization, Savannah’s Playground, to build a $1.5 million facility on 4.5 acres behind Crabtree Gymnasium. So far, he’s raised $650,000 for the project.

Rhodes noted that Haley vetoed a $200,000 appropriation for Savannah’s Playground last year and the General Assembly overrode her decision. That could happen again this year. If that doesn’t work, municipal leaders may move forward without the extra state support.

“I don’t think the governor understands,” he said. “She thinks it’s a playground. She doesn’t understand what type of playground it is, that it’s a playground for special needs kids. … There’s nothing compared with it on the East Coast.”

As a resort city, Myrtle Beach would benefit from adding such a playground because it would make the destination attractive to tourists who have children with disabilities, Rhodes said. “It’s going to be unique,” he said. “It’s going to be a beautiful project. And we’re going to get it done … with or without the governor’s help.”

Late Monday, Haley, a Lexington Republican, issued 87 budget vetoes, the largest number in her five-year tenure as governor. But the amount of state spending she wants to block is the second smallest.

Haley’s previous high-water mark in vetoes was 81, set in 2012 and 2013. The smallest amount of spending she vetoed was $18.5 million last year.

The state’s new fiscal year starts Wednesday.

The House will return to Columbia on Monday to vote on Haley’s vetoes. A two-thirds majority vote is required to override her vetoes. The Senate is expected to take up vetoes sustained by the House next Tuesday.

While Haley criticized what she called legislative earmarks, state Rep. Chip Limehouse, R-Charleston, a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, said the governor had her own budget issues, including proposing to borrow $123 million to pay for incentives for Volvo. That would have cost the state more than $80 million in interest.

However, legislators set aside $70 million in the state budget for Volvo, cutting the amount the state needs to borrow to $53 million and saving millions, he said.

Other projects that Haley said she vetoed as pork included:

▪  $125,000 for national marketing of the Woodrow Wilson home in Columbia

▪  $100,000 for the Richland County aquatic center

▪  $250,000 for the Township Auditorium in Columbia

▪  $200,000 for a 9/11 memorial in the Upstate

Haley also vetoed:

▪  $5 million for water-quality work through the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control

▪  $2.5 million for a S.C. Judicial Department disaster data-recovery plan

▪  $2.2 million to run the 2016 presidential primaries

▪  $2.1 million in spending for new professors, program managers and extension agents at Clemson University

▪  $2 million to market the state Department of Agriculture’s “Certified SC” campaign

Reporter Charles Perry of The Sun News contributed to this report.

More vetoes

Some other budget vetoes that Gov. Nikki Haley issued:

▪  $1.4 million in marketing money for the state Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism

▪  $1 million for the Medal of Honor Museum in Mount Pleasant

▪  $1 million in art-grant money that passes through the S.C Department of Education

▪  $1 million for S.C. Aquarium renovations

▪  $850,000 for the economic-development arms of some counties and cities, including $100,000 for Richland County

▪  $500,000 to move state Department of Mental Health operations from the Bull Street area

▪  $390,000 to buy a collection of artifacts for the Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum

▪  $250,000 for anti-predatory lending training program that state Office on Aging did not request

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