Vetoes spare expansion funds for kindergarten

abeam@thestate.comJune 25, 2013 

Gov. Nikki Haley


— Public-school districts in Richland and Lexington counties will be able to expand their 4-year-old kindergarten programs for low-income children after Gov. Nikki Haley declined to veto education spending in the state’s $22.8 billion budget that takes effect July 1.

The budget includes $26 million to expand a 4-year-old kindergarten program into 17 school districts – including Richland 1, Lexington 2 and Lexington 3 – where at least 75 percent of the students qualify for Medicaid or free or reduced-price lunch, two measures of poverty.

Haley said she did not support the expansion – touted by her chief Democratic rival, state Sen. Vincent Sheheen of Kershaw County – because she thinks the state should focus first on reforming K-12 education funding before spending more on preschool programs.

But, she added, “I’m not going to say that my way is the only right way to do it. I’m willing to test it and see how it goes.”

In a statement, Sheheen, who ran against Haley for governor in 2010, said he has fought for “full-day 4-year-old kindergarten because it is the best way to increase opportunity, improve public education, help children learn and responsibly invest in South Carolina’s economic future.”

He said the expansion “is a testament to the importance of working with both sides of the (political) aisle” but did not mention Haley by name. Sheheen already has said he plans to run against Republican Haley of Lexington for governor again in 2014.

In issuing her budget vetoes Tuesday – 81 vetoes that would cut $94 million if sustained – Haley signaled she was not ceding the education issue to her Democratic rival. Haley told reporters that education “needs to be the next front priority” in 2013, adding, “You are going to see us come up with an education reform package in the future.”

House lawmakers return to Columbia Wednesday to decide whether to sustain or overturn Haley’s vetoes. They will find many of the same budget debates that they have seen in previous years.

While Haley did not veto a $1 million increase in arts grants, for instance, she eliminated $417,750 in operating money for the agency that administers those grants, saying it would “motivate the Arts Commission to take steps to reduce its back-office and administrative costs by partnering with other state agencies.”

But Ken May, the Arts Commission’s executive director, said Haley’s veto would eliminate money needed to pay rent and run programs.

“It’s not our whole budget, but in a way it might as well be,” May said. “(The veto) makes it impossible for us to function.”

Haley also vetoed nearly $3 million that would pay for a day off for some of the 770,000 South Carolinians who provide free care for their elderly or disabled loved ones. Haley said she sympathized with the caregivers but has “very little confidence that there will be sufficient funds next year” to keep the program going.

“It would be irresponsible to begin a caregivers’ initiative now with temporary funding, knowing that the state would likely be forced to abandon participants a year from now,” she said.

Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston, who heads the state’s Office on Aging, said Haley’s veto is “based on a lack of understanding.” He said if caregivers don’t get a break once in a while, they will burn out and send their loved ones to nursing homes that taxpayers will have to pay for through the state’s more costly Medicaid program.

“These are not free-loaders looking for handouts, these are hard-working South Carolinians looking for a helping hand,” McConnell said. “I’m not any free-spending liberal. I believe in extending a helping hand and helping people help themselves. And that’s what this is about.”

As she has in previous years, Haley again vetoed state spending — $2.3 million this year — on mostly private health care charities, including:

• $1.5 million for the Best Chance Network, which provides free breast cancer screenings, and the Colon Cancer Prevention Network

• $350,000 for HIV prevention

• $100,000 for S.C. Bleeding Disorders Premium Assistance Programs

• $100,000 for a nurse-family partnership

• $100,000 for the Donate Life S.C. Organ Donor Registry

• $100,000 for the James R. Clark Sickle Cell Foundation

“Each of the organizations ... serves a laudable purpose; the stories of those affected by these diseases tug at our heartstrings,” Haley said in her veto message. “At the same time, how do we decide to distribute funds to fight colon cancer, but not breast cancer? ... Many of us support Habitat for Humanity, Harvest Hope or the American Red Cross, and yet none of those worthy organizations receives an earmark in this year’s budget.”

Haley also vetoed $11.4 million from the state’s $112.7 million capital-reserve fund for projects, including a $1.5 million cadet-accountability system at The Citadel — a computer program that tracks students’ progress — and $300,000 for a computer science program at the University of Charleston.

Haley’s budget vetoes

Q. What did Gov. Nikki Haley veto?

A. 81 line items in the state’s $22.8 billion spending plan, set to begin July 1.

Q. How much money did she veto?

A. About $94 million.

Q. What did her vetoes focus on?

A. Haley continued to target what she calls irresponsible budgeting by cutting one-time money used for recurring expenses. She also cut projects that she says state agencies did not ask for, including $150,000 for the Transportation Department to build a boat ramp and $200,000 to buy equipment at the Benjamin Mays Historical Preservation site.

Q. What did she not veto?

A. A $26 million expansion of the state’s 4-year-old kindergarten program and up to $8 million in tax deductions for scholarships so disabled students can attend private schools.

The veto messages

See Haley’s news conference about her vetoes below these documents

General appropriations vetos

Capital Reserve Fund vetoes

Video: Haley’s veto news conference (afternoon of June 25)

Reach Beam at (803) 386-7038.

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