When Gov. Nikki Haley called on legislators to eliminate state funding for the arts and for public television and radio broadcasting, the plea did not surprise Ken May.

May, executive director of the South Carolina Arts Commission, knows that a serious budget shortfall will be addressed with painful cuts, and that Haley sided with former Gov. Mark Sanford last summer when he vetoed funding for the state agency.

But May said he is hoping that popular support for the Arts Commission and its work will once again persuade lawmakers to preserve what he and many others say is an essential service in the state.

"The reason we won the veto fight was because of a massive grass-roots response -- thousands and thousands of people who responded very quickly and pretty loudly," May said. "So if that's any indicator, there's a substantial grass-roots base for the arts, and public funding of the arts."

Haley made the pitch Wednesday in her State of the State address, which included other proposed cuts in an attempt to chip away at an $829 million budget deficit.

In a poll conducted in the fall of 2009 by the agency, 92 percent of adults in South Carolina favor state funding for arts, May said. About 40 percent of respondents during the height of the recent recession said they favored increased state spending.

"There are philosophical differences on this point, but the reason to have a state arts agency is so there's someone working to make sure every citizen has the arts in their lives ... not just the people who are wealthy, not just the people living in the cities," May said. "You can't have that without state involvement."

By naming the Arts Commission and ETV in her speech, which was broadcast by ETV and ETV Radio, Haley signaled the beginning of a debate that likely won't be resolved until June, when a final budget is supposed to be presented for a vote in the Legislature. The state's fiscal year begins July 1.

"We will not please everyone with the decisions we make but we must make decisions that do the least amount of harm and have the best long-term effect," Haley said in her speech. "And the reality is the role of South Carolina's government in the year 2011 can no longer be to fund an Arts Commission that costs us $2.5 million. It cannot be one that funds ETV, costing taxpayers $9.5 million."

In reality, May said, the Arts Commission state allocation is $2 million. It received one-time federal funding of $250,000 this year for grant-making purposes.

If funding the Arts Commission's $2 million budget is discontinued, the agency will cease operating, May said. What's more, federal matching money no longer will be available to the agency or arts organizations that depend on state funds.

The impact of these cuts on the state's economy would be severe, according to Betty Plumb, director of the Rock Hill-based nonprofit South Carolina Arts Alliance.

"Creative industries," including nonprofit arts organizations and individual artists, plow $9.2 billion annually into the state's economy and create about 78,000 jobs, according to a recent study by researchers at the Moore School of Business at the University of South Carolina.

Arts education, it has been shown, contributes to academic achievement, which in turn fuels a vibrant economy, Plumb said.

And the state's largest industry, tourism, benefits from the arts. Spoleto Festival USA, the South Carolina Jazz Festival and other events draw visitors and businesses to the state. Studies show that cultural tourists tend to stay longer in the places they visit and spend almost twice as much money as other travelers, Plumb said.

Private investment in arts tends to be local, she said. So communities that don't have a lot of private wealth or big companies struggle more to support the arts.

"It's the difference between the Haves and Have-Nots again," Plumb said.

James Braunreuther, fine arts learning specialist for the Charleston County School District, said area public schools receive funding, directly and indirectly, from the Arts Commission, whose Arts in Education program awarded 65 grants statewide this year for a total of $270,000.

"When we get cut -- and we've got cuts coming as well -- we turn to the South Carolina Arts Commission," he said. In addition to funding programs, the agency acts as a partner to bring professional artists to the classroom, he said.

Drastic budget cuts might look good on paper initially, but the effects can be significant, Braunreuther said. "We think we're saving a dollar, but we're actually losing probably $10."

Wando High School received $7,500 from the Arts Commission this year, one of several local schools to get support from the state.

"Society has to make a decision about the things that they think are really important," the school's band director, Scott Rush, said. "And I think we're missing the boat if we don't realize what arts do for young people."

Rob Schaller, director of communications for ETV, said Haley's proposed cut of $9.5 million represents nearly half of the organization's $19.5 million annual budget.

The state appropriation pays for infrastructure, such as buildings and satellite towers, and staff salaries. Programming is not a taxpayer expense, Schaller said. It is funded with private donations from individuals and corporations.

ETV, which got its start in 1957 as an educational service to Columbia's public schools, continues to maintain a robust state-funded closed-circuit television operation that supports schools, teachers, first responders and professionals statewide, Schaller said.

Educational initiatives are closely coordinated with the state's Department of Education.

Funding cuts, therefore, would likely impact this operation, though Schaller declined to speculate on what might happen if Haley's call for cuts is heeded.

"It's a long process, there are many, many hoops to jump through first," he said. The next step, he said, is to sit down with the governor to get more details.

Sen. Wes Hayes, a Rock Hill Republican and co-chairman of the Senate Arts Caucus, said he wants to help find a way for ETV and the Arts Commission to get more private funding, potentially reducing the cost to the state. Hayes said eliminating those entities would be a mistake.

The Arts Commission plays an important role in directing grants to schools and local governments, he said. ETV provides distance learning for public schools, law enforcement agencies and higher education institutions.

Hayes said he hopes the governor would agree to use private dollars as a supplement should cuts be made, but he's not sure if enough legislators like that idea.

"It's going to be a battle," Hayes said. "The key weapon the governor has is a veto. Whether we have two-thirds to override a veto, that's the question."

May, of the Arts Commission, said the last few years have been a balancing act for his agency. The budget has been cut 47 percent since 2008, even as struggling arts organizations continued to clamor for funding. Now comes a big challenge that's hard to solve.

"This is just beginning of the budget process," May said. "The governor does not make the budget. The Legislature makes the budget. It's a long time until June, and it's not over until then."

What people are saying

"We operate on a budget of $200,000. That pays salaries, production, everything. So $7,000 (in grant money from the Arts Commission) is a lot."

-- Anne Trabue Watson, marketing director, PURE Theatre

"What it speaks to is the fact that the arts (organizations) have to build the case that we deserve funding. Part of the blame is on arts organizations and part of the blame is on the community as a whole. Until we have that conversation ... it's an uphill battle for everyone."

-- Jessica Solomon Bluestein, executive director Charleston Regional Alliance for the Arts

"ETV has been valuable to our society. The 'E' stands for education. ETV has educated me and many generations, all creeds and colors. We should keep that entity by any means necessary, and I'll lead the march on that."

-- Rep. Wendell Gilliard, D-Charleston

"As a matter of general principle, foundations don't regard themselves as replacing governmental funding just because governmental funding is eliminated."

-- John O. Sands, director, Lowcountry Program Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation

"That tiny amount of money, an infinitesimal portion of the state budget, reaps huge benefits for the economy of the state, because throughout South Carolina, it helps arts groups deliver arts programs that are excellent, it adds to the quality of life in the state and it provides access to the arts in rural areas and in large metropolitan areas. It reaches every corner of our state."

-- Ellen Dressler Moryl, director, city of Charleston Office of Cultural Affairs

"I understand Haley's problem, that there's not enough money to go around. When that's the case, you look at the thing that maybe is the easiest to give up. And I think that's what she's done. I think it's sort of a short-range view. I think the arts is so important to the good life we have here in South Carolina that if they're not around, the state will be hurt by it. The sad thing is we have to consider cutting those expenditures at all."

-- Burton Schools, former COO of Piggly Wiggly and current CSO board member

Tweets after Haley's speech

A search for 'Haley' and 'ETV' garnered these results.

@CClaiborneL: Nikki Haley calling for an end to state funding of the arts (like public radio) has inspired me to donate to eTV (after years of listening).

@chapmana_: I think a relocation is in order. Haley is backwards. Cutting ETV / school funding while giving raises to her staff don't mesh well.

@abowman5000: Haley announces she will eliminate the SC Arts Commission and funding for SC ETV. Public Schools are next #godhelpus

@KevinAllenSmith: Oh cool. Nikki Haley wants to cut funding to SC ETV and the state Arts Commission. Great job again, SC voters.

@kokomodianne: Who else was hoping the ETV feed of Haley's State of the State would go dark as she announced her intention to defund ETV?

@CCPNews: Haley ready to cut funding to ETV. Ironically the only station in Charleston running her State of the State live.

NOTE: No tweets were found defending Haley.

Yvonne Wenger contributed to the report. Reach Adam Parker at 937-5902.