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July 18, 2012

Senate takes up Haley budget vetoes today

S.C. House lawmakers cut South Carolina’s $23 billion budget by about $4 million Tuesday, approving 30 of Gov. Nikki Haley’s 81 budget vetoes — mostly small projects like the Veterans Park in Irmo and the North Myrtle Beach Historical Museum.

Representatives moved to restore funding for a number of high-profile budget items that Haley had vetoed, including the arts, a coastal consortium, teacher pay raises and rape-crisis centers. State senators will meet Wednesday to vote on the same items. If two-thirds of senators vote to overturn Haley’s vetoes, the money for the projects will be restored.

The governor’s play-by-play commentary on Facebook fired up some House lawmakers.

After the House voted 111-0 to override Haley’s veto of $453,680 for the state’s 15 rape-crisis centers, Haley wrote on her Facebook page: “Special interests made their way into the DHEC budget. This is not about the merit of their fights but the back door way of getting the money. It’s wrong and another loophole for legislators and special interests to use.”

House Democrats — interpreting Haley’s comments as calling rape victims “special interests” — demanded Haley apologize.

“This is one of the most offensive things I’ve ever heard a governor say,” said state Rep. Bakari Sellers, D-Bamberg. “The governor needs to take a long look in the mirror and decide whether or not she stands by these comments. If she does, then I will make sure every single female voter in this state is aware of it. That’s a promise.”

Haley had vetoed six health care items costing $1.5 million, including the rape-crisis centers.

All of the items directed the Department of Health and Environmental Control to give one-time money to private, nonprofit organizations — including the National Kidney Foundation, the James R. Clark Sickle Cell Foundation and various AIDS charities. Also included was $453,680 for the S.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault — money that would go to the state’s 15 rape-crisis centers, all private, nonprofit organizations.

House lawmakers overrode five of Haley’s six health care vetoes. After each vote, Haley posted nearly identical messages to her Facebook account, referring to “special interests.”

Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey said the governor was not referring to the people served by those agencies as “special interests,” but the fact that DHEC was being forced to give state money to non-state agencies.

And, Godfrey added, the budget also includes $656,689 for rape-violence prevention in DHEC’s budget, a 6 percent increase from last year.

“To argue that the governor isn’t supportive of victims is, on its face, absurd and shows how far political opponents will go to criticize the governor regardless of the facts,” Godfrey said. “She signed off on increased funding for both rape centers and domestic violence prosecution in the budget because it’s the right thing to do. Each of them needs to put their political drama and distractions away and start explaining to their constituents why they spent so much money.”

Haley did not speak to reporters after the House session. Her running tally of the votes on her Facebook page included the comment “taxpayers win” for every veto that was upheld.

State representatives easily overturned some of Haley’s most controversial vetoes, including $3.9 million for the S.C. Arts Commission and $6 million for the Sea Grant Consortium — vetoes that forced those two agencies to shut down July 1, effectively laying off 40 employees.

The Arts Commission veto prompted a flood of protests, including a rally at the State House Monday night. Tuesday, supporters of the arts were at the State House carrying signs that read “bipartisan.”

Tuesday’s votes do not mean the affected programs are in the clear. Today, they must earn the Senate’s approval — which requires a two-thirds vote.

House lawmakers changed their minds on five of Haley’s vetoes — at first voting to sustain them but then voting a second time to override them. The largest switch was $3 million for the Rural Infrastructure Bank, a fund designed to pay for things like water and sewer lines in rural areas to help them attract businesses.

“Certain legislators are trying to switch votes on the vetoes we have won,” Haley wrote on her Facebook page. “Any legislator that changes their vote is being swayed politically and we will call them out for lack of courage of protecting the taxpayers.”

But state Rep. Brian White, R-Anderson, said Haley’s Rural Infrastructure Fund veto originally was sustained simply because several lawmakers missed the vote because they were outside of the chamber.

“Overall, I’m very pleased. I think it was good for the governor,” said White. “Out of 81 vetoes, we sustained like 30-something for her. Forty percent — that’s pretty good.”


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