The South Carolina House of Representatives overrode Gov. Nikki Haley’s veto of a farm flood relief bill on Tuesday, hoping to send a strong message with a 112-2 vote.
“The day after the floods, the governor stood… with her Cabinet and said we’re going to help every citizen in South Carolina. But she didn’t help you,” State Rep. Davey Hiott, R-Pickens, said shortly before the vote. “We’re here today to honor that commitment right now.”
South Carolina’s Senate will also need to override the governor by a two-thirds vote, which is expected to happen Wednesday.
Haley vetoed Act 182 on Monday, saying the maximum $100,000 grants it would award farmers amounted to a “bailout” of a “vocal” politically-connected industry. The governor said the new Farm Aid Board created by the legislation would offer taxpayer-backed grants not available to any other businesses damaged in the floods.
But the bill’s supporters criticized that position, insisting farmers are limited in the aid they can receive. Agriculture Commissioner Hugh Weathers, who opposes the governor’s position, says $125 million in federal crop insurance payouts are not nearly enough to cover a more than $375 million statewide loss from the October rainfall and inability to plant winter crops due to damage.
“Ladies and gentlemen, farmers in this state need our help,” State Rep. Gary Simrill, R-Rock Hill, said during floor debate. “The exports that come from farmers, the food that comes from farmers, the livelihood that comes from farmers, it’s imperative that we lend a helping hand.”
The bill would have created a new Farm Aid Board to award up to $100,000 grants (or 20 percent of documented loss, whichever is lower) for farmers whose crop insurance did not come close to covering their actual losses.
Haley’s veto had been expected and the South Carolina Farm Bureau was already prepared to mobilize a lobbying campaign against it. Farm Bureau President Harry Ott, a former rival to Haley as the leader of House Democrats until 2013, said he does not understand the governor’s actions.
“What this is about is giving (farmers) some relief from a natural disaster event that nobody could have foreseen,” he told South Carolina Radio Network. “We’re just simply disappointed that the governor has chosen to turn her back on farmers and agriculture again.” He said farmers desperately need the money to buy seeds, fertilizer, or other supplies that would have normally been purchased with credit backed up by the previous year’s harvest.
Two of the chamber’s more libertarian-leaning Republicans sided with the governor — State Reps. Jonathan Hill, R-Townville, and Ralph Norman, R-Rock Hill.
“We have got to have priorities, like the state’s retiree system, like education, like roads,” Norman said. “I dare say $100,000 is not going to save that many farmers from bankruptcy, because most now are already so far under and it’s not because of the floods.”