Gov. Henry McMaster issued 41 budget vetoes Monday, trimming roughly $56 million worth of provisos from the proposed budget which takes effect next month.
Legislators will return to Columbia later this month to take up the vetoes and decide which they want to override. Both the House and Senate will need two-thirds majority votes to override the governor.
“In the same year this General Assembly passed the largest tax increase in history, there are items in this budget I just can’t support,” McMaster said, in reference to the 12 cents per-gallon gas tax increase approved earlier this year. “If the government is going to ask the taxpayers to contribute more of their hard-earned dollars, we need more oversight and discipline in government spending, not less.”
The biggest vetoes were $20.5 million for new school buses which would be paid out of a surplus from various lottery funds. Education officials have desperately sought funding each year to retire over a thousand aging 20-year-old buses which remain on the roads. But McMaster said he could not support the one-time money coming out of funds for college scholarships.
“The lottery money should be used only for scholarships for our young people,” the governor said in a short video posted to his Facebook page. “Because that’s what voters were promised.”
Education Superintendent Molly Spearman said the buses are sorely needed. “By vetoing funding for the purchase of new school buses, the Governor is putting the safety of our students at risk,” she said in a statement released by her office. “Our school bus fleet incorporates more than 1,500 buses that are over 20 years old and not only are these old buses twice as expensive to operate and maintain, but they are also experiencing structural and mechanical issues.”
McMaster also vetoed language which would weaken oversight by the Commission on Higher Education. Legislators had limited the types of projects the commission could approve to new construction of academic buildings, after commissioners blocked several athletics facilities that were funded almost entirely by borrowing. The veto puts McMaster at odds with large universities like Clemson and the University of South Carolina, which believe the commission is going too far in its review of project finances.
The governor also said he also vetoed $9 million for the Department of Health and Environmental Control for “medical contracts” and “water quality.” McMaster claimed the money was helping to fund “unidentifiable pork” with the vague titles. He claimed his own agency heads were not sure how all the money would be spent due to its ambiguous nature.