COLUMBIA — The South Carolina Senate ended this year’s legislative session Thursday by overriding 46 of Gov. Nikki Haley’s 81 budget vetoes, restoring money to a Union County library, a Barnwell County courthouse and other local projects.
Many of the votes were close. Seven times senators sustained a veto, then came back and voted to override it. The $100,000 to repair the courthouse in Barnwell County died twice before senators finally mustered enough votes to override the veto.
The most conservative members of the Senate bristled as several votes to get rid of local projects just barely made it over the two-thirds vote threshold needed to keep them in the state’s $6.7 billion spending plan.
“There has been a lot of vote-swapping going on today,” said Sen. Tom Corbin, R-Travelers Rest.
The General Assembly now goes home until January.
The Senate sustained eight of the governor’s vetoes Thursday.
The performance was similar to last year, when Haley also issued 81 vetoes and had 48 of them overturned. In Haley’s first year in 2011, she issued 34 vetoes and had 25 of them overridden.
The Senate agreed with the governor on removing a $1 million item for a visitor’s center in Orangeburg and $453,000 for lights near a tennis center on Daniel Island.
The governor’s biggest win during the veto session came Wednesday, when the House agreed with her move to take out $1.7 million for the a Department of Health and Environmental Control program that decided whether new nursing homes can open, hospitals can expand or build new medical buildings and doctors can buy equipment worth more than $600,000.
Supporters of the Certificate of Need program said the governor’s move will create chaos because the law is still there, even if it isn’t paid for.
One moment of suspense came Thursday as senators voted on the governor’s decision to veto a provision that added nearly $51 million to the budget. The governor said it was one-time money and had no business in the spending plan.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Hugh Leatherman said if the veto was sustained, he would demand that the House and Senate come back and write a whole new budget instead of letting across-the-board spending cuts go into effect. In the end, Leatherman asked to switch his yes vote to a no because he thought the measure was going to fail and wanted the chance to bring it back up again. The Florence Republican quickly realized that his vote would actually sustain the veto and switched back to yes.
For most of Thursday, senators squared off over spending in rural areas. They spent nearly an hour debating $100,000 for the Barnwell County courthouse.
“If we can help a municipality or county we need to do that,” said Sen. Creighton Coleman, D-Winnsboro.
But the most conservative Republicans disagreed, saying the courthouse isn’t a state facility. Sen. Paul Thurmond, R-Charleston, pointed out that Charleston County had to spend $6 million to renovate and repair its courthouse without state help.
Other senators said lawmakers were trying to go back a couple of generations, when the Legislature held great sway over county governance.
“This harkens back to those days when we wrote the county budget,” said Sen. Chip Campsen, R-Isle of Palms.
In the end, the fight was mostly won by rural senators. Lawmakers agreed to projects like returning more than $1 million to the Union County library for renovations, $150,000 for a boat ramp to serve isolated Sandy Island in Georgetown County and $200,000 for the Benjamin Mays historical site that honors the civil rights leader in Greenwood County.
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