SEWE, aquarium included in Haley’s $30.2M veto list

S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley

COLUMBIA — Gov. Nikki Haley dusted off her veto pen and used it more than 80 times in the past week, but did not strike large amounts meant for the Lowcountry out of the state’s roughly $7 billion budget.

In total, Haley issued 87 vetoes totaling $30.2 million. It’s a higher amount than last year’s $18.5 million, but significantly lower than in prior years when she’s vetoed as much as $94 million.

For a second year in a row, Haley attributed the drop in vetoes to the fact that the Legislature and her office worked together to ensure there was no spending she considered wasteful. This year, however, Haley was critical of the return of earmarks. With more money in the state’s coffers, Haley said she saw too much cash being directed to pet projects, such as parks, museums and playgrounds.

“Those are worthy projects for the local areas to fund,” Haley said. “It is not for state tax dollars to go to.”

Notable items vetoed include $1 million for the Medal of Honor Museum at the Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum, $1 million for the S.C. Aquarium and $250,000 for the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition.

Haley lumped in the money for the museum as part of 18 “pork-barrel projects” that represent “some of the most irresponsible political deal-making that South Carolina has to offer.” She also suggested the aquarium seek local and philanthropic support in a year when the Legislature gave “very little capital support” to state parks.

She was harsher with the cash slated for the wildlife expo, saying that ever year she vetoes it, and yet it keeps popping up in the budget. She chastised lawmakers for “sanitizing” who the money was for; the wording of the item in the budget is vague, presented as money for the Charleston Area Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Rep. Chip Limehouse, R-Charleston, said he’ll be pushing for his colleagues to override both vetoes when they return on July 6. The museum, which would honor the nation’s greatest heroes, would attract more visitors to Patriots Point, while the wildlife exposition kicks off the hospitality and tourism economy every season, he said.

Limehouse, who serves on the House’s budget-writing panel, said overall he was pleased that the Charleston area wasn’t as much of a target of vetoes this year.

“If you look at the big-ticket items, we did really well in the Lowcountry,” Limehouse said. “We worked hard to get those. And they’re very worthy projects.”

Those big projects include $25 million for a new women’s and children’s hospital for the Medical University of South Carolina and $20 million for Trident Technical College’s Aeronautical Training Center. The College of Charleston also got $1.7 million for Stern Center renovations. And Charleston’s proposed International African American Museum also received $5 million.

But Haley vetoed $100,000 meant for the Turning Leaf project in North Charleston, an alternative program that helps nonviolent offenders avoid prison time and teaches them the causes, effect and, ultimately, accountability for crimes; a veto Sen. Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston, said he, too, would be working to have his colleagues overturn.

“Turning Leaf is a model program and very unique rehabilitation program that both state and federal prosecutors and judges are using as a means for alternative sentences,” Kimpson said. “The $100,000 we committed to this program will more than provide the return in terms of cost savings to the state.”

Rep. Gary Simrill, R-Rock Hill, said he would also be aiming to overturn the a $2 million veto meant for “Certified SC,” which promotes the state’s crops.

“Agriculture in South Carolina is actually one of the economic successes that we have, and often times, unfortunately, it’s overlooked,” Simrill said. “I think we have to look at South Carolina’s holistically. Not only are we exporting BMW, but we’re exporting strawberries, peaches and peanuts.”

Reach Cynthia Roldan at 708-5891.