What Did – and Didn’t – Gov. Haley Veto?


$57.1  MILLION SOUNDS LIKE A LOT. BUT IS IT?

The release of the Governor Nikki Haley’s vetoes for the 2012-2013 budget has predictably been met with cries that the governor is a proponent of unnecessary austerity and wants to destroy or at least severely reduce vital state programs. Do the governor’s critics have a point? Or are they missing the larger context?

At $23.6 billion, this year’s budget is by far the largest in state history – indeed it’s more than a billion dollars larger than last year’s largest-ever budget. From this historic amount, the governor’s 81 vetoes remove a mere $57.1 million in spending: slightly less than one quarter of one percent of the budget.

Not that she doesn’t deserve credit for the vetoes she did issue. Multiple vetoes remove spending for projects that provide primarily local benefits and should be funded on the local level: for example, vetoes 26, 27 and 28 remove funding for the Irmo Veterans Park ($30,000), the Patriot Park Environmental Pavilion ($100,000), and regional marketing and advertising for the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition ($200,000). Similarly, vetoes 31, 32, and 33 remove spending for the North Myrtle Beach Historical Museum ($300,000), African American Historic Sites Preservation in Charleston ($200,000), and the Mitchelville Capital Land Purchase in Hilton Head ($200,000). The governor’s point is well taken: Why should taxpayers in Oconee County, say, help to pay for an event in the Lowcountry for which their region will receive no benefit?

Several of the governor’s vetoes attempt to slow the rapid rate of growth of state programs. That is to say, many vetoes remove additional line item spending for agencies or programs that are already seeing increases in their funding from last year’s budget to this year’s. A few examples: a veto of $10 million that would be taken from the National Mortgage Settlement Fund and given to the Deal Closing Fund (the latter is money used to “persuade” companies to invest in South Carolina  – and it’s already seeing its budget increase from $10 million last year to $15 million this year); a veto of $1.2 million for classified positions at the Governor’s School for Science and Mathematics which still leaves an over $1.5 million increase from the school’s previous year’s budget; and a veto of $1 million for deferred maintenance at the Department of Mental Health – a department that’s already seeing a $16 million increase in funding and is being allowed to keep the proceeds of the sale of a its Bull Street property to use specifically for maintenance needs.

One more trend that deserves applause is the removal of funding for non-profits: these organizations’ success should be based on their merits rather than on government handouts. Veto 44, for instance, strikes $200,000 for a group called SC Skills USA, the local affiliate of a national non-profit that holds competitions for high school students in technical programs. The veto of an additional $200,000 for the SC Manufacturers Extension Partnership is another positive step in this direction (MEP is a “consulting company” that directly lobbies the legislature), although the $682,000 in base funding for the organization is left alone

None of this changes the fact that Governor Haley’s 81 vetoes would, if sustained, make only a small divot in a gargantuan state budget.

The vast majority of wasteful programs and funds remain untouched by the veto pen. This wasteful spending includes line items that benefit specific groups and industries like $8 million for “destination specific tourism marketing,” the alleged benefits of which can’t be measured, or the $10.7 million to the film industry (read: Hollywood producers).

Similarly, the “Deal Closing Fund” – a massive pot of money used to give handouts to specific corporations as way to entice them to locate in South Carolina or to reward them for expanding operations – gets a $5 million increase, bringing the total to $15 million. While the governor did veto a provision transferring money from the National Mortgage Settlement Fund (the purpose of which is to help scammed homeowners), she left the Closing Fund’s general fund increase alone.

Education, particularly higher education, has its fair share of earmarks in the budget as well. Examples: $1 million for a research vessel at Costal Carolina University, $2 million for a science center at the college of Charleston, and $3.5 million for a training facility at Central Carolina Technical College. Finally, we can’t fail to mention an item that falls under both education and public funding for non-profits. $2 million is set aside for Teach for America, a national non-profit that sends talented teachers into rural areas (although it appears that many of those teachers leave as soon as their contract is fulfilled), passed unscathed by the veto pen.

So, while the governor’s vetoes are praiseworthy as far as they go, they don’t go very far. To put it in crass numerical terms: With state government now occupying well over a tenth of South Carolina’s entire economy (roughly 14 percent), striking individual programs for hundreds of thousands, or even millions, just won’t make a difference. Something more, much more, is needed.

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