Columbia — Lawmakers appear headed toward another veto showdown with Gov. Nikki Haley over state money for the 11 TV and eight radio outlets that make up S.C. Educational Television.
Haley has said she thinks ETV should be paid for with private money, not taxpayer dollars. Last year she vetoed the agency’s state money, but lawmakers overruled her.
This year House lawmakers agreed to pay for ETV indirectly, funneling money to it through several other state agencies that use its services — an approach that Haley has agreed to, said state Rep. Kenny Bingham, R-Lexington.
But state Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Kershaw, one of Haley’s chief rivals, amended the state’s $6.7 billion budget proposal last week for the fiscal year that starts July 1 to pay for ETV directly, setting up another possible veto fight.
“I don’t mind calling somebody’s bluff, but that’s not my goal here,” Sheheen told The State newspaper. “It’s important that we have accountability in the budget, and that we know what we are funding, and that the public can see it.
“To me, that means, when we are funding agencies, we ought to fund them on the (budget) line so we can see that they are funded, instead of hiding it,” said Sheheen, the Democratic nominee against Haley in the 2010 governor’s race.
All of this happened last year, producing a sometimes-ugly veto dispute between Republican Haley and the GOP-controlled Legislature.
Last year Haley agreed not to veto ETV’s state funding if lawmakers did not pay for its operations directly with state money. Instead, lawmakers adopted indirect funding of the agency, requiring state agencies to pay ETV for its services that they use with money that they get directly from the state.
After Sheheen amended the Senate’s budget proposal to have taxpayers directly pay for ETV, lawmakers changed their budget proposal back to the indirect funding that Haley wanted. But Haley vetoed ETV’s indirect funding anyway.
One difference this year is that lawmakers are not spending time fighting over ETV’s budget.
“I was fighting it to avoid a veto (last year), and she vetoed it anyway,” said state Sen. Wes Hayes, R-York. “I’m not going to knock myself out to keep it off the (budget) line this year.”
This year, Haley’s executive budget proposal recommended that the state Department of Education, one of ETV’s largest customers, pay for the majority of ETV’s budget. But state Superintendent of Education Mick Zais opposes that proposal.
“If the General Assembly desires to fund SC ETV with state funds, then it should fund it on a budget line item,” Zais, a Republican, wrote in a letter to the Senate Finance Committee.
“That is the most transparent and direct method of allocating state funds to an agency.”
Haley said that paying for S.C. ETV indirectly makes the agency earn its keep, performing services for other state agencies that, in turn, pay ETV. Absent that, Haley opposes funding ETV.
“When it comes to the budget, the governor has been clear — the General Assembly should focus on core function of government and not spend all the money ... they should put our taxpayers and businesses first by paying for tax relief or paying down debt,” said Rob Godfrey, Haley’s spokesman.
Rob Schaller, spokesman for S.C. ETV, said the agency is “following the (budget) process very closely.”
“All we can really say right now is there are still many steps to go, and we are not ready to speculate on what might happen,” he said.
Hayes, the Republican senator from York County, said he is confident that the General Assembly will override any Haley veto of ETV’s funding.
“One of the things people look to South Carolina as a shining, good example (is) educational TV,” he said. “There are not that many things people really look to us as an example.”
The Senate is in its second week of debating the state’s $6.7 billion general-fund budget. ETV’s proposed share of that budget is $5.8 million. The agency’s total budget, including federal funding, is $18 million a year.