Around Charleston, a lot of people still affectionately call the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition the “Dog and Duck show.”
But Gov. Nikki Haley has another name for it: “Old-Fashioned Pork.”
So once again, this year Haley vetoed $200,000 to promote one of the state's biggest money-generating events. The House overrode the veto, but on Thursday the Senate upheld it.
Haley says promoting SEWE is not a core function of government. That's a fair point. But sometimes you need to look at the bottom line. This isn't, say, the Grady Squash Festival. SEWE has an annual estimated economic impact of more than $60 million for the state. That's up there with the Heritage Golf Tournament.
In four days, SEWE generates nearly $4 million in hotel taxes alone, and brings 40,000 people — and their credit cards — to South Carolina.
Promoting such an event to the tune of $200,000 seems like a small investment for such a lucrative return. But once again tea party politics have trumped common sense, and could cost this state money.
And that dog won't hunt.
That tiger bites
A few weeks after Haley was inaugurated in 2011, she showed up at SEWE.
Organizers fussed over her appropriately — even gave her a tiger painting. You know, since she's a Clemson alumnus and all.
At the time, she said kind words and promised to be back. Next thing SEWE heard, she was vetoing their promotions budget.
Haley says it's nothing personal.
“She has simply argued that, given the constraints of some of the toughest budget years South Carolina has seen, we need to focus on funding core functions of government, of which SEWE isn't one,” Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey says.
Haley is at least consistent — she has vetoed SEWE funding for three years running, just as Gov. Mark Sanford did for eight years before her. In the past decade, the Legislature has overridden the vetoes a couple of times, but last year a bureaucratic mix-up resulted in the expo just never being paid. Shameful.
That's no way to treat a non-profit that gives South Carolina a huge shot in the arm every February. People who attend the sportsman's showcase spend more money than even Spoleto attendees.
At the same time, SEWE provides a lot of educational opportunities for school kids — one of those quality of life things that should be important to a state. But not in “core function” land.
It's funny, these so-called fiscal conservatives actually cut a pitiful percentage of the state budget, focusing their efforts on low-hanging fruit like SEWE and the arts.
Big mistake. The budget practices of our state officials show that these folks are, at the very least, inartful.
The right thing
We are not talking about some huge bureaucracy living off the taxpayers' dime.
SEWE has a staff of four or five paid staffers, and hundreds of volunteers who put this event on each year. That $200,000 is for marketing and advertising.
The expo doesn't share in the economic windfall it brings the state. In fact, because of all these vetoes SEWE is in debt. Which could threaten the whole show. But SEWE is determined that won't happen. As board Chairman Neil Robinson says, they don't do it for a profit, “We do it because it's the right thing to do.”
“We need to do a better job of educating the Legislature,” Robinson said after the vote.
Actually, this is not the expo's fault. Lawmakers — and the governor — should see the benefit of SEWE without having to be lobbied.
They may sell camouflage at SEWE, but the expo's benefits are pretty easy to see.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org
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