Standing outside the shuttered offices of the South Carolina Arts Commission, several Democratic lawmakers slammed Governor Nikki Haley for vetoing the agency’s budget, which effectively shut it down.
Because legislators were relatively late getting the budget to Governor Nikki Haley, her veto of $2.4 million last week came after the fiscal year had already began. That had the unusual effect of eliminating the agency’s funding immediately. Haley also vetoed funds for the state Sea Grant Consortium, which coordinates federal coastal research grants for South Carolina’s colleges and universities.
Lawmakers will vote whether or not to restore both agencies’ funding when they return to session next week.
Sen. Vincent Sheheen (D-Camden), Sen. Joel Lourie (D-Columbia), and State Rep. James Smith stood in the 99-degree heat to make a point about the closure. “We would much rather be inside supporting the arts, but unfortunately Governor Nikki Haley has decided to lock the doors on the arts community in South Carolina,” Sheheen said.
They were joined by Columbia Democratic candidates Robert Rikard and Beth Bernstein, who are each hoping to upset Republican incumbents in November.
In her veto message, Haley said there are plenty of private groups that could fund the arts without taxpayer money. Sheheen said that sends the wrong message, “Every civilization that I’m aware of over the last thousand years has invested in the arts,” he said, “I think people have been proud of their culture. I am proud of South Carolina’s culture and I think it’s worth a very small investment that South Carolina makes.”
Haley had criticized the Arts Commission, saying that 30 percent of its costs were for administration and overhead. However, the Commission’s director Ken May said that was a misinterpretation of the budget. The number comes from a budget proviso that requires the agency to spend 70 percent of its funds on grants and programs. May said the commission spends much more than that.
Lourie slammed Haley for those numbers, “I would ask the governor this: did she come meet with the Arts Commission staff? Does she understand… that what she says in her veto message is absolutely, factually-proven not to be true?”
May said he has been told his agency cannot spend any money of any kind– state or federal– unless the legislature restores his budget next week. He said that likely means his 20 employees will probably not receive their pay until then. May said many are volunteering for the South Carolina Arts Alliance in the meantime.
“You never want to hear that you’re losing a week and a half of salary and that your future is in jeopardy,” he told reporters Monday, “That’s not good news.”
The House will return next Tuesday to take up the vetoes, while the Senate comes back Wednesday. Both Houses easily overrode a similar veto last year (which came in June, before the new fiscal year took effect).