Forty state employees at two agencies will return to work today after lawmakers overturned Gov. Nikki Haleys veto of the budgets of the S.C. Arts Commission and the Sea Grant Consortium.
But the workers at those agencies will not be paid for the eight days of work they missed.
We dont know of any legal authority to pay those employees for the time they did not work, said Jim Holly, chief of staff for state Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom. The state is not allowed to pay people for periods they dont work.
Meeting Tuesday and Wednesday, House and Senate lawmakers sustained 33 of Haleys 81 budget vetoes, reducing the states $23 billion spending plan by about $4 million.
Of that $23 billion, $6.8 billion the states general fund budget that legislators debate comes mostly from a combination of state income and sales taxes. The rest comes from federal grants and other funds, including state fines and fees, and college tuition payments.
I am happy, Haley said Wednesday. I will tell you that its a lot of (sustained) vetoes. From my days of being a legislator, we never saw that many.
For the fiscal year that started July 1, lawmakers had an extra $1.4 billion to spend in the states general fund due to the slowly recovering economy. As a result, nearly every state agency received a budget increase, designed to make up for several years of budget cuts during the Great Recession.
Haley, who said Wednesday that her role as the states chief executive is to hold everything down, (so) we are not running deficits, vetoed less than 1 percent of the states total budget.
The first-term Republican governor from Lexington said she would have vetoed much more, but her veto powers do not allow her to reduce budget increases, only strike them entirely.
Its not that we didnt want to increase them, but they were increased too much, she said of the increases that legislators approved for state agencies and programs. We wanted to dock just a little bit.
Some key Haley vetoes that were overridden included:
• $10 million in one-time, or non-recurring, state money to help pay for raises for teachers. Combined with $38 million in recurring money, lawmakers say the money will allow school districts to give teachers a 2 percent raise.
• $10 million for the Commerce Departments closing fund, which that agency uses to help lure companies and their jobs to South Carolina. The money comes from South Carolinas portion of a $25 billion lawsuit settlement between 49 states and six U.S. banks accused of improper mortgage-lending practices. Haley has championed economic development but, nonetheless, said the money should be used for what it was intended for: helping homeowners avoid foreclosure.
• $954,680 for a variety of private health charities, including the National Kidney Foundation, the James R. Clark Memorial Sickle Cell Foundation and the states 15 rape-crisis centers.
Haleys veto of the budgets of the S.C. Arts Commission and the Sea Grant Consortium came at an unusual time after the states budget year already had started July 1. That forced the two agencies to immediately shut down with employees not allowed to work, even unpaid until lawmakers could return to Columbia to overturn Haleys actions.
The primary thing for me is the fact my staff can go back to work. That was my No. 1 priority, said Rick DeVoe, executive director of the Sea Grant Consortium. They were told that, all of a sudden, they didnt have jobs. I felt for all of them.
Haleys vetoes were pushed into mid-July because lawmakers did not send her a finalized budget until the last week of June. The only way the employees of the affected agencies can make up their missed pay is if lawmakers, when they return to work in January, pass a law allowing it.
(Lawmakers) are going to have to deal with what they did now, Haley said. We didnt ask them to wait until the last minute to pass a budget.
The Arts Commission veto galvanized supporters across the state who launched a campaign to save the agency, which administers competitive grants to local arts projects. Meanwhile, supporters of the Sea Grant Consortium, which coordinates federal grants for the states universities to research coastal science issues, started petitions and called lawmakers.
State Sen. John Courson, R-Richland, said upholding Haleys veto of the Arts Commission budget would have left South Carolina as the only state without an agency devoted to the arts, calling that a huge, huge black eye. A veto of the Sea Grant Consortium would put $5.4 million of federal research money in jeopardy, doing irreparable harm to our state, said state Sen. Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence.
Haley said she vetoed money for the two agencies for the same reason that she vetoed their budgets last year: They are an inappropriate use of public money. The arts community should rely on private donations, she said, and the research universities can apply for their own grants.
Haley said Wednesday that she was frustrated that, while she vetoes the agencies every year, she never sees them change.
What do you say about arrogant behavior of the Arts Commission that absolutely did nothing but protest on the State House grounds? Haley said. Weve got to see some proactive reasoning (by) people saying, We want to work and try and make things better, not just consistently saying, No.
Officials at the two state agencies say they, too, are weary of the repetitive vetoes and anxiety that comes with them. They said they want to work with lawmakers to make changes to their agencies that would avoid future vetoes.
But it is unclear what those changes would be.
House lawmakers approved a bill that would have moved the Arts Commission into the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, but the Senate did not vote on the bill. Haley suggested Thursday the Arts Commission move into the State Museum, cut its staff to two from 20 and use a voluntary commission to approve grants.
Im not sure that solution was the best for services to this state that we provide, responded Ken May, the Arts Commissions executive director.
Reach Beam at (803) 386-7038.