Gov. Nikki Haley threatened Wednesday to veto legislation that would provide $40 million in emergency grants to South Carolina farmers worst hit in last year’s floods.
The governor said lawmakers are singling out favorable grants to one particular industry over other small businesses that were damaged or closed after last year’s record rainfall. “I feel bad for the farmers who have been hurt, but I feel bad for the small businesses,” she told reporters after an unrelated press conference Wednesday.
Haley’s comments came one day after the Senate Finance Committee advanced the proposal. A 95-6 vote by the House last month would be enough to override a veto.
The proposal that passed the state House last month would allow farmers who lost at least 40 percent of their crops to apply for up to $100,000 each in state assistance or 20 percent of their loss (whichever is lower). Those grants would be approved by a seven-member Farm Aid Board consisting of members from the agriculture industry and would convene whenever the governor declared a state of emergency and the US Secretary of Agriculture declared a disaster.
Senators changed the legislation, however, instead making the board act in an advisory role to Agriculture Secretary Hugh Weathers and limiting its grants role to just this particular disaster.
Agriculture Commissioner Hugh Weathers told Finance Committee members the $40 million in total grants would be emergency help that could only go towards new crops, not equipment or paying back old loans. He said federal crop insurance does not come close to covering farmers’ actual losses and federal disaster aid included in the current spending resolution did not set aside money for farms.
“The budget bill upon which farmers held their hopes for some help… through disaster relief will not materialize,” Weathers said.
But some senators were skeptical of expanding the state’s government to make funding decisions. “I don’t want to see a collapse of our farm industry,” State Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley, said. “But I’ve got a little trouble putting $40 million in the hands of six unelected persons and say, ‘Y’all have at it.'”
Both Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler, R-Cherokee, and Minority Leader Nikki Setzler, D-Lexington, said they would not support House language that creates a program coordinator and support staff to help the board. Peeler said he does not see a need for the board once this year’s grants are awarded.
The bill reached the Senate floor Wednesday after clearing the Finance Committee a day earlier.