COLUMBIA -- "Army Wives" actresses Catherine Bell and Kim Delaney traveled to the Statehouse on Tuesday to lend their star power to a key legislative vote that could have sent the hit cable show packing.
The Senate voted 28-13 to override a budget veto that provides incentives designed to lure the film industry to South Carolina. Without the level of incentives offered in the budget provision, the Lifetime drama "Army Wives" might have moved the Charleston-based production out of state.
The pair of actresses buttonholed several legislators, urging them to keep the show in-state with the incentives. "The future of the show really rides on it," Bell said. "We would absolutely move."
The film incentives were contained in one of 27 budget vetoes the Senate took up during the one-day special session.
The House convened briefly to take up a handful of legislative vetoes, most notably a new law that will require a $25 tag for each bear hunted. The new tag fee is $100 for people who live out of state. The House voted 108-2 to override the veto. The Senate voted 28-9.
Senators overrode all but four of the budget vetoes issued by Gov. Mark Sanford. The House had first crack at the 107 budget vetoes and agreed to uphold 51 during a special session two weeks ago. The remaining 56 vetoes went to the Senate for consideration, half of which they overrode earlier this month.
The four sustained vetoes will cut an additional $247,000 from the state's budget that has dipped below $5 billion from more than $7 billion before the recession began. The budget goes into effect Thursday.
Lead budget writer Sen. Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, said the state won't have the cash it needs to provide services until more residents find jobs and start paying income taxes and sales taxes.
The budget doesn't meet all the people's needs, Leatherman said.
The Senate did find the votes to throw away the governor's veto of $900,000 for school bus operations.
Jim Foster, director of communications for the Department of Education, said the $900,000 will keep the state's 5,200 buses running for three days, when fuel and parts costs are factored in. Even with the cash, the Education Department might still end up asking the Legislature next year to run a deficit, depending on the price of fuel. Every 8 cents swing in the cost of fuel is worth $1 million to the state agency.
"It's going to be a roll of the dice," Foster said.
The Education Department won't have any money to buy new school buses this year, despite an investigation by The Post and Courier that found South Carolina's school bus fleet to be the oldest, most polluting and most dangerous in the country. Foster said the state was able to buy 85 used 15-year-old buses from Kentucky, which allowed officials to retire 25-year-old buses.
The governor's allies put up a fight to uphold more of his vetoes, and the Senate actually failed to override the school bus and film incentives vetoes on the first try. Both budget provisions were overridden on a second and final vote.
Bell, who plays Denise Sherwood on "Army Wives," and Delaney, whose character is Claudia Joy Holden, waited anxiously in the Statehouse lobby while senators reconsidered the veto.
"We needed to stay filming here," Delaney said. "We bought houses here and we want to live here. The show would not have shot here without the tax incentives."
The budget item held film incentives at 20 percent for South Carolina residents' wages and 30 percent for supplies purchased from in-state businesses. Sanford's reason for axing it: The budget provision raised the rates from 15 percent for each rebate and, in doing so, changed state law and violated legislative rules.
Plus, "we should not be increasing the incentives we give to Hollywood film companies in a year when we're making such drastic cuts to core government functions," the governor wrote in his veto explanation.
In a letter to lawmakers, "Army Wives" representatives wrote that the series has contributed more than $120 million in production costs to the local economy since it landed in Charleston in 2006. Just this year, in filming the fourth season, the show hired 355 employees and 1,101 extras and paid more than $19 million in salaries and wages, the letter states.
A state's ability to stay in the film industry is a competitive matter. By comparison, North Carolina offers a 25 percent tax credit on in-state spending for goods and services. And Georgia offers a flat tax credit of 20 percent, plus an additional 10 percent by including a Georgia logo in the finished product. Some states offer even more.