On Monday, the South Carolina Sea Grant Consortium office in downtown Charleston was closed for business.
Twenty people — including 14 full-time employees — were sitting home, wondering if they still had jobs or would soon join the unemployed.
They won't know for sure until sometime next week.
And it's all because Gov. Nikki Haley was looking for some low-hanging fruit in the state budget so she could curry favor with people who don't understand government.
The Sea Grant Consortium is a small agency that many people never come into contact with. Since 1980, it has used state and federal money to fund research and education programs on coastal and ocean issues facing our state.
They study fisheries for the fishing and shrimping industry, research beach renourishment and deal with agricultural issues and stormwater management. You know, fact-based, science stuff.
But apparently that's not real important to some people — not when they can save .0006 percent of the state budget.
Until this year, the Sea Grant Consortium cost the state $332,000 annually.
Last year the consortium used that small appropriation to leverage a 1,100 percent return in research dollars brought into the state. The year before, it was something like 1,278 percent.
Lawmakers are so happy with the work of these scientists that they increased the consortium's budget by 28 percent this year, bringing the total to $428,000.
Based on her veto message, Haley doesn't even understand what this agency does. She said its primary purpose is to help universities secure research dollars, and the schools should do that in-house. That's a very small part of what it does.
Of course, what do you expect? Haley vetoed the state Arts Commission, claiming its administrative costs were a whopping 30 percent. Of course, her office spends 94.5 percent of its similar-sized appropriation on salaries. And the Executive Policy and Programs Department — which is under the governor's control— spends more than twice that percentage on administrative costs.
Sounds like she ought to hire some Sea Grant and Arts Commission folks if she really wants to cut government costs.
Target on their backs?
Because the budget was late, Haley's vetoes came in the new fiscal year — and that meant the consortium was shut down immediately.
This is unprecedented, and a nervous time for some Charleston folks. “Our agency has been providing very strong public service for three decades,” says Rick DeVoe, Sea Grant's executive director. “We hope that we'll be back and able to continue that work.”
If it's any consolation, Haley tried this trick before. Last year she vetoed the agency's funding and the Legislature overwhelming voted to put it back. So maybe next week these folks can get back to work.
And back to looking over their shoulders every day, worried that someone who claims to be committed to “jobs, jobs, jobs” keeps trying to get rid of theirs.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @BriHicks_PandC.