Gov. Nikki Haley and the state Senate disagree once again on end-of-year priorities for bill passage. Haley wants to see a comprehensive ethics reform bill pass this spring, concerned that it may not be revived in the second year of the session.
As the Senate headed into its second week of budget debate, Haley took a press conference podium to challenge the state Senate take up the ethics bill next. She says a handful of Senate Democrats could move the bill along, once the the chamber passes the budget.
Budget debate, however, has been slowed by a few Republicans who continue to argue for one-time road repair money. The spending plan bill is also laden with contentious issues like Medicaid expansion, school choice funding and use of the state’s airplanes.
Next, senators are planning to take up a bipartisan bill to create a longterm solution for the state’s ailing roads and bridges.
Haley said, “D.O.T. (Dept of Transportation) is not something that I have looked at. My focus has been on ethics, it’s been on DOA, it’s been on getting the budget passed. It’s on all those things that are sitting right there at the finish line that we need to push over. But I have always said there needs to be a strong debate on transportation in this state.”
Haley argues that there is no reason that the legislature cannot stay later and do more: “Get it done. And if they want to hear it, hear it all night if you have to, but get it done.”
In an early glimpse of 2014 campaign kabuki, the governor was surrounded by a mix of Senate Republicans and her ethics study group appointees, while a large contingent of Democratic party and legislative leaders looked on, ready to hold a rebuttal press conference.
She charged: ”Finish the budget and move right on to ethics, because it is time. We need to show the people of the world that we don’t have issues in South Carolina. That we are not afraid of ethics reform and that we’re going to pass a strong ethics reform bill.”
House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford (D-Richland) said his priorities are based on what he hears about on a day-to-day basis. “That is fixing roads and bridges, ethics reform is ‘inside politics.’”
“We spent a long time on it in the House. This is a two-year session and we are five months in. The ethics reform bill was 38 pages of amendments we had to read through and most of them were crucial changes.”
Orangeburg Senator Brad Hutto jabbed at Haley, “Having her lead this charge is like Barry Bonds call for stronger drug testing…We’ve got a governor here who is promoting ethics only because of her own ethical failure.”
Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey immediately fired back to the media, “Hutto was taking it to a personal, not a policy level.” Ethics charges about Haley’s activities as a House member were dismissed, charges that Godfrey calls “trumped up.”
Longtime South Carolina ethics watchdog John Crangle of Common Cause, says the ethics changes need to be as strong as possible and should include local government officials. Local lobbying regulation has been cut out of recent version of the bill. Crangle says if a better bill means working into next year, it’s worth it.
There are a couple of weeks left in the regular legislative session. In 2011, Haley called the General Assembly back into session in one end-of-year argument over failed passage of a major government restructuring bill. The Senate sued and the SC Supreme Court ruled she was outside of her authority. The bill was not passed in the next year, either.