Sustain pork vetoes, restore agencies, pay raises

July 13, 2012 

A LOT OF GOV. Nikki Haley’s criticisms about this year’s state budget ring true.

She was spot-on when she called out lawmakers for stuffing morsels of pork into the spending plan. Although there were fewer appropriations than we’ve seen in the past for private organizations and projects that should be the responsibility of local communities rather than the entire state, the governor was right to worry about the precedent set by returning to the pre-recession practice of budget writers using our tax dollars to purchase the support of fellow legislators. We simply can’t justify asking folks in Marion to pay for, say, a park in Irmo, or people in Seneca to pay for a museum in North Myrtle Beach — or for taxpayers anywhere to underwrite even as excellent a private entity as Habitat for Humanity.

The governor was likewise correct to object to the Legislature’s terribly irresponsible use of one-time money to fund pay raises for teachers; since those higher salaries have to be paid for next year, that starts next year’s budget off in a deficit.

And in a state where we don’t spend enough to provide a solid basic education to all children and where we’re told we can’t afford to provide health care for those who can’t afford it, it’s irresponsible to pay for a stand-alone arts agency. Ditto an entire agency to do coastal research and help universities write grant proposals.

But while lawmakers should sustain Gov. Haley’s vetoes of pork-barrel projects, they should reject her other high-profile vetoes.

Avoiding the one-time-money trap might be important enough to justify reducing teachers’ promised raises, but that’s not an option. Because of the way the Legislature wrote the budget and the way the governor issued her vetoes, school districts still have to provide $50 million worth of pay raises, even though the governor took away $10 million of the funds to pay for them. That means they’ll have to divert money from other priorities that the Legislature and the governor agreed on, or, under some legal theories, they might have to use local funds — perhaps even increasing local taxes.

We’re not positive that it would be horrible to eliminate the Arts Commission and the Sea Grants Consortium, although we would prefer to fold both tiny little agencies into larger ones, to cut down on administrative costs and reduce the unmanageable number of free-standing agencies. But a veto is much too blunt an instrument to use to eliminate any agency, because it doesn’t allow for an orderly transition. Both agencies have bills that are pending and contracts that are active and other ongoing obligations that cannot be attended to if the Legislature sustains the vetoes.

If the governor wants to eliminate the agencies, she needs to do a better job of convincing the Legislature that’s a good idea — and propose legislation that will transfer their duties to other agencies until the work can be closed out in an organized manner. For procedural reasons, that can’t be done until next year, so the only responsible option now is to override these vetoes.

Several of the governor’s other vetoes are problematic, from shutting down the information technology operations for the judiciary — which is not a mere agency but one of three supposedly co-equal branches of the government — to plucking out spending lines that she says she doesn’t oppose but vetoed just because spending at a given agency was higher than the arbitrary number she had in mind. (It’s not at all clear that all of those agencies would be able to move money around within their budgets as she claims.)

Her other major veto would eliminate the Certificate of Need program that caused so much trouble for the governor’s former patron, the Lexington Medical Center. We agree that there are problems with the program, which is supposed to rein in soaring medical costs by preventing the unnecessary duplication of expensive equipment and programs that we all end up paying for, through public or private insurance. But the problem isn’t that it’s unnecessary, as the governor absurdly claims; the problem is that it hasn’t been aggressive enough. We’re not certain how to fix that, but closing it down isn’t the answer.

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