Haley budget vetoes slash state agencies, local projects
COLUMBIA — Two state agencies supporting quality of life in Charleston are unsure whether they will open their doors on Monday following Gov. Nikki Haley’s budget vetoes.
Impact of the vetoes
In addition to shuttering the state Arts Commission and Sea Grant Consortium, Gov. Nikki Haley’s $67.5 million in vetoes target dozens of other agencies and projects. Some items, however, escaped Haley’s veto pen.
The strange scenario began to play out in the halls of the S.C. Arts Commission and Charleston-based Sea Grant Consortium after Haley sought to block the agencies’ funding in her 81 vetoes issued just before the midnight deadline Thursday.
Other veto winners
State employees: Haley left untouched a 3-percent raise for state workers. Haley said she didn’t seek to block the raises because newly passed reform of the state’s retirement fund will require workers to pay in more of their salaries.
Poorer school districts: Haley left an additional $153 million to increase the state’s base-student cost in the state spending plan. The infusion will increase average funding per student by $132. Poorer districts receive a greater percentage of this funding.
Opponents of repurposing mortgage settlement funds: Many Republicans in the Legislature wanted to use part of $31 million the state receieved from a lawsuit settlement to help struggling homeowners to recruit new businesses. Specifically, the GOP-controlled Legislature allocated $10 million for the Commerce Department’s “closing fund” over the objections of most Democrats, wanted the money to be used for its original purpose. Haley vetoed the $10 million for Commerce, though she didn’t get specific about where it should go. She said the closing fund will already receive $15 million this year and it is “inappropriate” to raid the mortgage settlement money for the fund.
The Arts Commission is a vital source of funding for Charleston County-based organizations and cultural programs.
In the just-concluded fiscal year, the commission provided more than $185,000 in grant money to groups in the county. The Sea Grant Consortium supports coastal research education and extension for member institutions including The Citadel, College of Charleston and Medical University of South Carolina.
Until the Legislature returns to Columbia later this month to decide whether to overturn or sustain each of Haley’s vetoes, both agencies have been told by S.C. Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom not to spend any money.
They don’t have any legal authority to do so because a continuing resolution that had been funding state government expired after Haley issued her vetoes, Eckstrom said.
He said the situation appears to be unprecedented in state history.
“It certainly makes things very tough for employees of those agencies,” Eckstrom said.
Rick DeVoe, executive director of the Sea Grant Consortium, said he left it up to employees whether they return to work before the Legislature acts on Haley’s veto of more than $428,000 in state funding for the agency.
Haley said in her veto message that the institutions should be able to support the consortium themselves instead of the state operating it as a dedicated agency.
DeVoe said a few employees told him they would be willing to come in without pay.
“How long that can last I’m not sure,” he said. “It all depends on what the General Assembly does now.”
It’s unclear if employees who decide to return to work before the Legislature deals with the vetoes will ever be paid for their labor during that time.
“I don’t want employees to come back to put in the work and then find out through some legal consequence that they won’t end up being paid,” Eckstrom said.
Like last year, Haley vetoed all state funding for the Arts Commission.
She said the public should be able to decide for themselves which artistic endeavors deserve financial support.
The Legislature had originally planned to deal with Haley’s vetoes in September, but uncertainty over whether the Arts Commission and Sea Grant Consortium can continue to operate and the impact of Haley’s veto of $10 million in one-time money for teacher pay raises will bring lawmakers back sooner.
GOP House Speaker Bobby Harrell of Charleston said the House will return July 17 to take up the vetoes. The Senate returns a day later.
In all, Haley vetoed $67.5 million in the state’s $6.7 billion general fund budget and $100 million Capital Reserve Fund.
Schuyler Kropf and David Slade contributed to this report. Reach Stephen Largen at 864-641-8172 and follow him on Twitter @stephenlargen.