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January 3, 2013

SC Gov. Haley wants expanded veto powers

Gov. Nikki Haley wants more power over state spending, but S.C. lawmakers appear unlikely to give it to her.

Gov. Nikki Haley wants more power over state spending, but S.C. lawmakers appear unlikely to give it to her.

Haley’s budget vetoes last year would have killed two state agencies and cut state money for rape victims, hemophiliacs and people with kidney disease – actions that prompted angry news conferences and mass protests.

Haley says she supported those programs – she just thought lawmakers gave them too much money. And, under state law, Haley only had two choices: kill all the spending proposed for the programs or let it pass.

“It puts me in the position looking like a crazy governor – that has gone and cut out everything, and people thinking I am heartless – as opposed to the fact that I actually want the program, I just don’t think we have all of the money to put into that system right now,” Haley said.

Haley wants a third choice: a reduction veto. Instead of eliminating spending for a program, Haley could write in a lower number in the budget passed by legislators. Legislators then could sustain or overrule that lower number.

At a news conference last month announcing her executive budget, Haley said she expected lawmakers to pass a law giving her reduction veto powers, saying “the Legislature understands they need assistance and guidance.”

But a week before lawmakers return to Columbia for their 2013 session, legislative leaders from both parties said they have had no discussions with the governor about giving her a reduction veto. And the chairmen of the two committees that would be charged with passing a bill to create a reduction veto for the governor said they don’t support it.

State Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens, a Haley ally, said a reduction veto would eliminate the state Senate from the budget process. The House of Representatives gets the first crack at the governor’s budget vetoes. If the House were to sustain a reduction veto, the Senate would not get to vote on it.

“That would have the effect of essentially taking the Senate out of the budget-writing process. It would be a waste of time for us to even take it up,” said Martin, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which would take up any proposed reduction veto.

State Rep. Brian White, R-Anderson, chairman of the House committee that writes the budget, said the budget process is a complex negotiation with lots of compromise. A reduction veto, he said, would let the governor “rewrite the budget.” Instead, White said the governor should have “more engaged conversations” with lawmakers during the budget process.

But Haley said it is that complex process that often drives up state spending. She said spending in states where governors have reduction veto powers grew by an average of 0.6 percent a year during the 2000s, while every other states’ spending grew by an average of 3.1 percent a year, according to an analysis by Christian Soura, Haley’s deputy chief of staff for budget and policy.

“We are not taking anything away from the Legislature,” Haley said. “What we are saying is we can better control costs, in a time when it is harder to control costs, if we are allowed the (reduction veto).”

Every governor has veto power – the ability to reject a bill passed by their legislature. Forty-four governors – including South Carolina’s governor – have “line item” veto power, meaning they can reject specific items in the state spending plan without rejecting the entire plan.

Governors in 12 states, including Tennessee, have reduction veto powers, according to a survey by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

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