The South Carolina House of Representatives on Tuesday overrode many the vetoes by Governor Nikki Haley that have grabbed headlines in recent weeks, including the Arts Commission, teacher raises, and a special earmark for rape crisis centers.
While lawmakers sided with the governor on a few dozen minor vetoes, most of her higher-profile ones fell by overwhelming margins. Those will now head to the state Senate to be taken up on Wednesday. It requires a two-thirds vote to override the governor.
Lawmakers rallied to save the state Arts Commission by an overwhelming 110-5 vote Tuesday. The agency has been shut down since July 9 after the governor’s veto took effect. Supporters of the arts said the veto would have a serious impact on the nearly $2 million in arts grants the commission doles out each year.
The commission’s executive director Ken May credited a public outpouring of support for his agency, “We’re very gratified that there’s been a lot of contact from constituents talking to their legislators,” he said after the vote.
All five votes in the governor’s favor came from Republicans, although none spoke on Tuesday. Haley herself had made clear she believed arts grants should not be funded by taxpayers, but by private donations.
Lawmakers from both parties defended the Arts Commission vehemently from the floor Tuesday. “Because this agency has been cut well over 50 percent in recent years… we continue to fall behind,” said Rep. James Smith (D-Columbia), “And what our governor fails to understand… is that a healthy arts community goes hand-in-hand with economic development.”
The House also voted to keep teacher’s raises intact on the state level. The governor had tried to block $10 million in one-time money from being set aside, saying it would create problems next year once those funds dried up. However, she kept the full 2 percent teacher raise intact, which Rep. Kenny Bingham (R-Cayce) said would create problems for school districts without the corresponding funds.
“If it goes back to the districts, they can use it for one year,” he said from the floor, “If they don’t get the money and they need it, they’re going to raise local taxes in order to get that.” Representatives sided with Bingham in a bipartisan 113-1 vote (with Rep. Ralph Norman being the lone opposing vote).
Legislators also unanimously blocked the governor’s veto of $453,000 meant for rape crisis centers across the state. Those centers had warned they risked severe cutbacks and possible closure without the funds. The Governor’s Office said the state budget still increased funding for rape victims and prevention even with the vetoes.
Haley posted to her Facebook account throughout the afternoon as each of her vetoes came up for debate. However, the move backfired a bit after she posted that “special interests made their way into the (state Department of Health and Environmental Control’s) budget.”
House Democrats pounced on the post, calling the governor “insensitive” for referring to rape victims as special interests. “These comments illustrate that the Governor’s political ambition knows no bounds. Not even the boundaries of common decency,” Rep. Chandra Dillard (D-Greenville) said in a statement, “I call on my former colleague to retract these comments and issue an apology.”
In a narrower 75-34 vote, Republicans in the chamber went against the governor and set aside $5 million for an economic development fund in the state Department of Commerce. The problem was that the money came from a national mortgage settlement. The governor said the money should go to help homeowners battling foreclosure. The resulting vote was unusual in that most Democrats sided with Haley against her own party.
Meanwhile, lawmakers also overrode the governor’s veto of $2.8 million to help the state’s court system maintain a new online database. In her veto message, Haley said lawmakers earlier this year created a special fee that would pay for the electronic system. However, Chief Justice Jean Toal said the Judicial Department will not begin receiving those fees for at least 18 months. Legislators sided with the courts 108-6.
“We depend now on this automation platform and shutting it down would have been a devastating blow to the effectiveness of the court systems in South Carolina for everybody that uses them,” Toal said after the vote.
Lawmakers also overrode Haley’s veto of the Sea Grant Consortium, which coordinates coastal research grants for the state’s colleges, by a 102-10 vote.
The governor did win a few battles, successfully lobbying representatives to remove most of the earmarks she vetoed. In all, the House sustained 30 vetoes, while overriding 51.