COLUMBIA - State lawmakers are already lining up to overturn some of Gov. Nikki Haley's 76 vetoes, including $2 million requested for the lieutenant governor's office.
Haley issued 76 vetoes, representing $18.5 million of the state's $7 billion budget. In prior years, Haley cut as much as $94 million. She said her office worked closely with the legislature this year, which is why there was less for her to cut.
Notable items vetoed include a pay increase of $1,000 a month for lawmakers, and the $2 million veto to the lieutenant governor's office meant to increase funding for Home and Community Based Services. Haley said "spending levels in this agency are rising too rapidly."
"It's not that we don't think that there's legitimacy for that," Haley said. "It's moving too much too fast. No agency should grow that fast without us sitting back and analyzing whether it's working well."
Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell said Haley is misinformed about the budget increases. The lieutenant governor's office's budget had been cut 48 percent over the last three years.
The Office on Aging had to cover some of the lieutenant governor's office's bills. The budget increases over the last few years have been for making up for those past shortfalls; the increases are "not about bloating budgets," McConnell said.
The cash vetoed by Haley is meant to cover in-home care so that seniors aren't forced to go into Medicaid-based nursing homes. McConnell said it's 40 times cheaper to have a senior receive care at home.
"It is so dramatically cheaper to fund this program than to face the reality of what it will do to South Carolina that there shouldn't be any quibble about it," McConnell said. "It's the humanitarian thing to do. It's the proactive thing to do to make sure the aging population stays at home instead of migrating into institutions."
Rep. Jim Merrill, R-Charleston, added that Haley's "abstract" comments such as "it's growing too fast" are too vague.
"The reality is that we have an aging population in the state of South Carolina," Merrill said. "We've woefully underserved the seniors of our state for years."
Merrill, along with Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Charleston, said that veto will likely be overridden by the General Assembly when lawmakers return to Columbia on Tuesday. A veto that likely will stand, however, is the one that gives salary increases for lawmakers, Grooms said.
"The reality is most legislators supplement their legislative duties with retirement income or with business income," Grooms said. "And we have seen examples of some legislators that get in trouble with their campaign accounts because they're trying to supplement a little too much."
In May, Rep. Harold Mitchell, D-Spartanburg, was fined $16,100 and ordered to reimburse his campaign account nearly $7,400 for improper expenses. And former state Sen. Robert Ford was forced to resign his seat last year for using campaign funds to pay personal bills, and this year was fined $45,000 by the Senate Ethics Commission for misspent funds.
Haley said she didn't think it was "appropriate" for lawmakers to give themselves a pay bump and suggested instead requesting a pay increase by referendum.
"I told them I'd veto it, they did it anyway," Haley said. "In this day and time when we're talking about first responders and education, is this the time for the legislators to give themselves a pay raise, and not only that, a pension increase on top of it? It is very poorly timed."
Another item she vetoed aimed to remove all four members who represent the executive branch from the Hunley Commission. She said removing her appointees to the Hunley Commission would set "an extremely dangerous precedent."
"That was one commission that we saw that was very strange," she said. "If we're going to really continue on with the Hunley Commission and we're going to do it in a way that's in the best interest of the taxpayers, you don't want to remove those committee members so they just have a free-for-all."
Haley also cut $500,000 for Undiscovered South Carolina, a tourism promotion grant program. She said if additional cash were to be allocated toward the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism's budget, then it should go for existing needs.
"The governor doesn't always view tourism as an economic driver in the same way she does manufacturing or other industries," Merrill said. "The fact is that for years, tourism has been the dominant consistent economic driver in this state and now it's even more so."
Reach Cynthia Roldan at 708-5891.
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