COLUMBIA — Gov. Henry McMaster slashed more than $40 million out of South Carolina's annual spending plan Wednesday, cutting out grants set aside for parks, sports marketing and local law enforcement.
He also eliminated $2.7 million to pay for an aging submarine at Patriots Point to be sunk off South Carolina's coast.
The budget veto process is a rite of passage for governors in South Carolina who want to prove they are watchdogs for fiscal responsibility. Former Republican Govs. Mark Sanford and Nikki Haley also took pride in cutting out pet projects and unspecified grants that were tacked onto the budget by state lawmakers.
McMaster was quick to highlight the newfound cooperation fostered between his office and the General Assembly when it came time to divvy up roughly $9 billion in tax revenue this year.
"We may all wear different jerseys, but we are all on the same team," McMaster said of his relationship with state lawmakers.
The governor's office highlighted the roughly 60 budget priorities that McMaster and the House and Senate were aligned on.
That included things such as teacher pay raises, a $67 million taxpayer rebate, $10 million for school resource officers and $65 million to attract new businesses to the state's poorest school districts.
It was, in many respects, a historic year for education spending in South Carolina and McMaster expects the focus on education needs to continue next year.
"Increasing our teacher compensation was our first bold step but there will be more," he said while addressing reporters at the Statehouse.
The budget McMaster signed includes a one-year proviso that prohibits state agencies and local governments from permitting any facilities for use in oil and natural gas exploration or drilling. In a break from the Trump administration, the governor opposes offshore drilling.
“Gov. McMaster will do whatever it takes to make sure we never see offshore drilling or seismic testing off of South Carolina’s coast," said McMaster spokesman Brian Symmes. "This proviso gives us another tool in our toolbox to protect our coast from the potentially devastating consequences that could result from drilling.”
McMaster still took issue with parts of the budget he believes are equivalent to a blank check. That includes the various grants lawmakers handed out to the S.C. Department of Public Safety and the state Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism.
The governor's office said the $17 million in grants those agencies received for sports marketing, park revitalization and local law enforcement programs weren't transparent with the spending. The ultimate beneficiaries of that money, he said, remains obscured from the public.
"We can't continue doing that as a matter of routine," McMaster said.
McMaster also took umbrage with the $2.7 million lawmakers set aside for the Cold War-era submarine Clamagore at Patriots Point that officials want to sink off the coast in order to create an artificial reef. The governor didn't specify what he would like to do with the aging submarine, but he was adamantly opposed to spending millions of dollars to sink it in the Atlantic.
"I don't think that is the proper use of the people's money," he said.
State lawmakers could decide to overturn McMaster's vetoes, but House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Hartsville, has suggested the legislature is unlikely to return until next year.
Bo Petersen contributed to this report.