Haley's trip during veto vote raises brows

Gov. Nikki Haley

COLUMBIA -- Had Gov. Nikki Haley not left town for a New York City trip during the final hours of the Legislature's session this year, would she have been able to persuade lawmakers to cut more government spending?

Who's to say, said Sen. Mike Rose, R-Summerville. But in the end, lawmakers threw out 27 of her 35 budget vetoes as the special session came to a close last week and the Republican governor flew north for business with the Republican Governors Association and personal time with her husband and their two children.

Rep. Jim Merrill, R-Charleston, said Haley's work was done: she reviewed the $6 billion budget, vetoed $213 million in spending and wrote a letter to lawmakers justifying her cuts. Plus, he said, her staff worked the legislative chambers -- BlackBerrys in hand.

Rep. Leon Stavrinakis, D-Charleston, said that's not good enough for him.

Stavrinakis said Haley is a hypocrite for taking a trip out of state before the budget was completely finalized after she tried to force legislators back into session to restructure government. Haley's attempts to bring lawmakers back to Columbia, saying they hadn't finished their work for the year, failed under a ruling by the state Supreme Court in early June.

"If she is going to chastise legislators and try to cost the state tens of thousands to try to bring us back to Columbia, then she needs to be there too," he said.

Rep. Wendell Gilliard, D-Charleston, said Haley is more interested in national politics than helping South Carolina's neediest, including families suffering from the lagging economy and the homeless. "It doesn't take an Einstein to figure that out," Gilliard said.

Haley's press secretary, Rob Godfrey, said the governor left Columbia on Wednesday afternoon for Republican Governors Association events in New York City on Thursday, and then spent time with her husband and kids from Friday to Sunday.

Although the governor's New York-based publishing house on Thursday announced the details of her book, "Can't Is Not An Option: My Story," Godfrey said Haley did not have any meetings on her book while she was in the city.

"As we've said, the differences we saw on the budget last week were about one thing and one thing only -- the Legislature wanted to spend more tax dollars than the governor did. No more, no less," Godfrey said in a statement.

The publisher, the Sentinel imprint of Penguin Group, referred questions to Haley.

Her public schedule, released Tuesday, made no mention of her trip to New York but lists on Thursday three RGA meetings, three calls for the group and a newspaper interview that spanned from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. The schedule does not list any events for Friday.

The Legislature adjourned Wednesday after the House and Senate voted on the budget vetoes.

The governor did not respond to questions about her decision to leave the state during part of the budget veto discussion. But, like Merrill, not all legislators saw a problem with her choice to travel during the extended session that ended last week.

Rose said the governor is entitled to use her time as she best sees fit.

"I am not going to try and second guess how she spent her time," he said.

Reach Yvonne Wenger at 803-926-7855, follow her on Twitter at @yvonnewenger and read her Political Briefings blog.