In a display of political clout, Republican Gov. Nikki Haley persuaded the GOP-controlled House Thursday to reject a budget proposal that its own leaders had endorsed.
Under pressure from Haley, House members voted to kill a plan to borrow roughly $500 million.
That money would have gone toward building renovations at college campuses, job-training facilities at technical schools and, potentially, to respond to a Supreme Court ruling that the state does not do enough for poor, rural schools.
“Republicans are caving to the governor’s every wish,” said state Rep. Mia McLeod, D-Richland.
Seeking to compromise or gather enough votes to override a Haley veto, House leaders tried Wednesday to cut the size of the borrowing plan to $275 million.
But Haley, fresh off easily winning re-election last fall, still threatened a veto.
House leaders ultimately decided to give up, voting to kill their own proposal by a 69-44 vote. Only Democrats, the minority party in the House, voted against killing the bond package.
Some proposed projects were saved, moved to other parts of the House’s proposed budget. But others were eliminated completely.
For example, the University of South Carolina will receive $3.5 million to renovate its soon-to-be-vacated law school building on Main Street for reuse, not the $15 million initially proposed. However, the South Caroliniana Library on USC’s Horseshoe will get the $5 million originally proposed.
Among the budget casualties were:
• $50 million proposed as a placeholder to address the Supreme Court’s school-equity ruling, reduced to $500,000
• $60 million for water-and-sewer projects to support economic- development projects, dropped entirely
The bond proposal was sponsored by House Ways and Means chairman Brian White, R-Anderson. After his plan’s defeat, White said the budget process still has a long way to go.
For example, if the state receives roughly $180 million in possible lawsuit awards, that money could be used to pay for some projects originally in the bond bill, White said.
New House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, praised White’s efforts.
“Chairman Brian White and the Ways and Means Committee prioritized certain projects intended to further economic development on a statewide basis,” Lucas said in a statement. “... (T)he measure faced significant opposition and was ultimately defeated.”
The borrowing plan passed the Ways and Means Committee 25-0 two weeks ago with White saying the state’s building and maintenance needs, its borrowing capacity and low interest rates made it appropriate.
Then Haley weighed in, holding a press conference to liken the proposal to running up the state’s credit card debt.
White said he was disappointed with that comparison.
“It’s not a credit card,” White said Thursday. “It’s much like buying a house.”
As the House considered its budget proposal this week, Haley took to Facebook twice, urging S.C. residents to contact their representatives and tell them not to support borrowing.
She also went to members’ districts to oppose the plan, including White’s in Greenville.
“A governor should be governing,” White said.
House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford also criticized Haley for going to representatives’ districts to “throw rocks at them.”
However, Haley’s influence was not the sole reason the bond proposal failed, Rutherford said. He said the bond proposal also suffered because House members did not have enough time to consider its individual projects.
Thursday’s victory was the second in the House this week for Haley.
Earlier in the week, Haley criticized House members for not holding roll-call votes on sections of the budget that had no opposition.
Under new Speaker Lucas, House rule trumps state law, Haley wrote on Facebook.
Lucas reversed course after that post, restarting the budget-approval process and holding roll-call votes on dozens of sections. Lucas’ spokesperson, Caroline Delleney, said the reversal was the result of an “abundance of caution,” not Haley’s comments.
But Richland Democrat McLeod criticized Haley for governing by Facebook and trying to control the House, an independent branch of state government.
“If she wanted to run the House, she should have stayed in it,” McLeod said.
State Rep. Nathan Ballentine, R-Richland, said the governor simply was reminding GOP representatives of their campaign promises.
“She’s using the bully pulpit and the mandate she’s been given as the governor of our state,” said Ballentine, a Haley ally.
Ballentine also said there was building pressure to kill the borrowing plan within the House Republican Caucus even before Haley intervened. “We ended up saving the state from borrowing $500 million,” he said.
After a final, perfunctory approval, the budget proposal will go to the Senate, which could decide to write its own borrowing plan.
However, it would require the support of two-thirds of the members of both bodies to override Haley’s promised veto.