Governor needs to think business, not ideology, when cutting budget

Gov. Nikki Haley

So, Gov. Nikki Haley isn’t a big fan of pork.

Not the kind you eat, mind you, the kind you serve up to constituents.

On Tuesday, she took her veto pen to a lot of the usual suspects — parks, museums, the arts — for $30 million in cuts to a $7 billion state budget.

This is no surprise. The governor is just being true to her conservative philosophies. The problem with a strict ideology, however, is that there’s never room for interpretation.

And only the most simple-minded people think things are always black and white.

For instance, Haley vetoed $100,000 for the local Turning Leaf program, which trains people on parole to re-enter the workforce — and pays them to take classes that help them overcome the problems that made them commit crimes in the first place.

It is the brainchild of Amy Barch, who Charleston Mayor Joe Riley calls “our Mother Teresa.” Judges and prosecutors believe this pilot program could become a national model for markedly reducing recidivism. That means less crime and prison costs.

But Haley vetoed Turning Leaf because the money went to a single vendor, like an earmark. Uh, this is a pilot program — that means no one else is doing it.

That sort of logic is just sloppy, or pig-headed.

As usual, Haley also vetoed funding for the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition, Charleston’s biggest annual winter arts and education shindig.

She says SEWE is big enough to operate independently of state support and the “earmark overwhelmingly goes to pay a single salary.”

SEWE board chairman Neil Robinson says that is so wrong it borders on libel. The money requested pays half the event’s marketing budget, which draws in even more people than Spoleto.

In its 33 years, SEWE has had a $1 billion economic impact to this state, and contributed at least $100 million in state tax revenue alone. But because Robinson and company keep ticket prices low, staff at a minimum and offer educational programs to school kids, the expo depends on support from the city, county and state to operate without a deficit.

You’d think $100 million over a few decades would be worth an investment of a couple of hundred-thousand dollars a year.

Beyond the simple dollars and sense of that argument, think about the big picture. The governor has made it her business to attract business to this state, and has crowed loudly about the Boeings and the Volvos. As she should.

But do you really think those companies come here just because of incentives? These folks don’t want Mississippi with a better coastline. They want their employees to live in a place that has plenty of recreation, educational opportunities — and museums, symphonies, the arts.

You know, culture.

Haley ought to see that cutting these programs is bad business.

The governor is not stupid, but vetoing minuscule amounts of money that do so much good seems like pandering to low-information voters.

You know, people who don’t like education funding because, well, they apparently get by fine without it.

Haley should lose the ideological arguments and rely more on common sense. Just last week she took a strong leadership stand, even if it took presidential candidates and big business to prod her into it.

Now is not the time to revert to Jim DeMintism.

Remember DeMint? He’s the genius who blocked money to dredge Charleston Harbor — which keeps our economy alive — because (gasp) the dredging money was a federal earmark.

We are still trying to get over that, and we don’t need any more ideological fires to put out.

Sure, the governor’s right, some of that stuff she cut is pork. Those projects are what lawmakers use to grease each other for the votes to pass other things. Vetoing some of those things makes perfect sense.

But just because something is technically an earmark, that doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing.

Hopefully the Legislature will come in next week, read the fine print and override the vetoes that don’t make sense.

They can start with restoring funding to SEWE and Turning Leaf.

Reach Brian Hicks at