COLUMBIA — Gov. Nikki Haley’s budget vetoes are as much about symbolism and nurturing her relationship with supporters as they are about spending priorities, political analysts and consultants said.
As the House easily overrode Haley’s most attention-grabbing vetoes Tuesday, the observers said her choice to veto some items that stood little chance of being sustained by the Legislature also reflect the governor’s desire to feed a narrative her office has embraced: that she is combating an entrenched “good ol’ boy” network of lawmakers.
Those vetoes, which drew the most protests and involved considerable amounts of funding, include $10 million to help fund teacher pay raises and hundreds of thousands in state funding to keep the S.C. Arts Commission and Charleston-based S.C. Sea Grant Consortium running.
Scott Buchanan, director of The Citadel Symposium on Southern Politics, said the budget strikes are a way for Haley to please her base.
“You can go and run on that in two years and say, ‘Look what I did, but it was the Legislature who overrode that veto,’” he said.
Haley’s office objected to the idea that Haley was motivated by anything other than her fiscal priorities of rejecting the use of one-time funds for recurring expenses and parochial earmarking.
“Those were her motives — no more, no less — and any speculation otherwise is misinformed at best,” Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey said in a statement.
And Godfrey said the administration “can’t control what vetoes the media chooses to fixate on, so we’re not entirely sure what the metric for high-profile is.”
GOP consultant Chip Felkel said Haley’s office likely didn’t anticipate it was going to be successful with the major vetoes.
But Felkel said the stands allow her to court the support of S.C. tea party groups — some of which have expressed disappointment with Haley’s regime.
The activist groups helped fuel Haley’s victory in 2010.
“She can tout that she stood firm with the base, and she can perhaps pick up some political capital with those who believe she has lost her way,” Felkel said.
Felkel and Buchanan said Haley’s predecessor, former Gov. Mark Sanford, took a similar tack that valued ideological purity over possibility of success.
Charleston Democratic Rep. Leon Stavrinakis said Haley and Sanford’s approach to budget vetoes is disingenuous because their administrations knew their high-profile budget strikes stood no real chance of passage.
That means the potential consequences if the vetoes were upheld were never truly on the line, he said.
Godfrey responded, “We weren’t aware that the idea of living within your means, avoiding using one-time money for recurring expenses, and not passing a budget that ensures we’ll start the next year in a deficit were partisan ideals.”
Mark Tompkins, a political scientist at the University of South Carolina, said the relative structural weakness of the S.C. Governor’s Office is in part responsible for Haley and other governors’ approach to budget vetoes.
Unlike governors in other states, Haley isn’t considered to be the leading voice on state budget issues.
That power lies with the General Assembly and S.C. Budget and Control Board.
But Tompkins said some S.C. chief executives, former Democratic Gov. Dick Riley and former GOP Gov. Carroll Campbell, have been able to move lawmakers to their side.
Tompkins said Haley and Sanford didn’t bring those political instincts with them into office.
“With Haley, it may be a choice,” Tompkins said.
Reach Stephen Largen at 864-641-8172 and follow him on Twitter @stephenlargen.