Politics & Government

June 12, 2014

SC Gov. Nikki Haley vetoes $12,000 pay raise for lawmakers

SC Gov. Nikki Haley issued 76 vetoes that cut $18.5 million from the $7 billion general fund budget approved by the General Assembly for next year, including a $12,000-a-year pay raise for lawmakers.

Gov. Nikki Haley on Thursday vetoed $12,000-a-year pay raises that legislators voted to give themselves.

That veto was among 76, cutting $18.5 million from the $7 billion general fund budget that the General Assembly approved for the fiscal year starting July 1, issued by Haley.

“I don’t fault legislators for wanting a pay raise,” Haley said. "I fault the way that this was done.”

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Haley said she told lawmakers throughout the budget process that she would veto the pay raise. Haley, a former state representative, said any raise for lawmakers should be decided by voters in a referendum.

The amount cut by Haley’s vetoes is by far the smallest since she took office in 2011.

Haley tried to cut $94 million from the budget last year — though more than half came from one project. She called for cutting $67.5 million in 2012 and $213 million in 2011.

In each year, however, legislators overturned the majority of her vetoes. They will return to Columbia Tuesday to decide whether to sustain or overturn her latest vetoes. It would take a vote of two-thirds of both the House and Senate to override the vetoes.

The number of vetoes that Haley issued this year is on par with the number she announced in the previous two years, 81 each. Some of the vetoes issued Thursday are tied to measures that had no spending attached for the budget year that starts July 1.

House Majority Leader Bruce Bannister, R-Greenville, said he is not sure whether the House will sustain or override Haley’s veto of the pay raise for lawmakers.

He said some representatives think the raise is appropriate and others do not. Bannister said he likely would vote to override the veto.

“We ought to make it attractive for good, qualified people to offer to serve in Columbia,” he said.

House Ways and Means chairman Brian White said he would vote to override the pay-raise veto. The Anderson Republican said the raise is justified because legislative districts have grown in population and legislators’ expenses, such as for gas, have increased.

However, Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler, R-Cherokee, said he thinks the Senate will sustain the veto, adding he will vote to uphold Haley’s action.

White predicted some of Haley’s other line-item vetoes will be overridden.

“If it’s made it through both bodies, and we voted on it throughout the whole process ... generally it will make it all the way through,” White said.

The overall state budget is $25 billion, including federal money and fees. Lawmakers only decide on where the $7 billion in the general fund, made up largely of state income and sales taxes, is spent.

Haley, who is seeking a second term in November, said she and lawmakers agreed more on the budget than in the past. The General Assembly approved $180 million for her education initiative, including reading coaches and technology improvements. She did not veto any money for K-12 education.

“We came back with a budget that is very much in line with where we want to go as a state,” Haley said. “It is extremely focused on making education a priority, and I can’t thank the House and Senate members enough for just having that dialogue with us. ... It is really nice to see how we are all starting to work together.”

The governor upheld a budget item that requires the College of Charleston and University of South Carolina-Upstate to spend a total of $70,000 to teach the U.S. founding documents. Legislators doled out that punishment because the schools assigned two gay-themed books to freshmen last year.

Haley said she said appreciated the compromise reached by lawmakers, who originally cut the money.

Also, for the first time since taking office in 2011, Haley did not veto all state money for the S.C. Arts Commission. She said the agency has become more frugal in its spending.

The controversial certificate-of-need program also survived Haley’s vetoes. That program requires hospitals and medical providers to seek approval from state regulators for large construction projects or equipment purchases. Lawmakers sustained Haley's veto of the program last year.

However, hospitals and other groups sued and the S.C. Supreme Court reinstated the program. Haley said she is abiding by the court decision, though she criticized the program as only benefiting lawyers who argue cases before state regulators.

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