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S.C. House overrides most of governor’s budget vetoes

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By Deborah Long

 

 The S.C. House returned to Columbia on June 29 to address Gov. Nikki Haley’s 34 line-item vetoes for the $6 billion fiscal year 2011-12 state budget. 

We rolled up our sleeves, drafting a balanced, conservative spending plan focused on restraining government growth, funding core functions of government, responsibly paying down debt and increasing our rainy day reserve accounts. 

As noted by Haley in her press conference before the session, there is “no pork included in this year’s budget.” I appreciate Haley making note of the fiscal restraint used by lawmakers during this budget process and her focus on capping state spending – an issue House Republicans have championed, passing spending limitations bills six times, including passing the Spending Limitations Bill (H. 3368) in March. 

This budget did come in well below proposed growth caps – in fact, it was tens of millions of dollars below growth caps. 

The state budget falls under this spending cap because we made priorities of setting aside and not spending unprecedented appropriations for items such as debt repayment and increasing rainy day reserve accounts. 

It must be made perfectly clear: Paying down debt and increasing reserve accounts do not constitute “new spending” or “government growth” as the governor used in her cap calculation. In fact, it is quite the opposite and helps ensure financial solvency for South Carolina. 

Some of those budget items include:

u $146 million to unemployment debt repayment

u Up to $261 million to fully fund increases to the general reserve fund five years ahead of schedule

u $104.8 million dedicated to an additional back-up reserve account

u $198.6 million to fully fund general obligation bond payments

By cutting taxes and working against government growth, the S.C. House has worked hard to ensure South Carolinians have the lowest state taxes in the nation per capita, according to the Tax Foundation, a well-known conservative think tank. 

Taxpayers can rest assured that I will continue to work to slow government spending, prioritize core functions and continue the same responsible budgeting practices that have delivered more than $20 billion in tax relief to hard-working South Carolina families.

We took the bull by the horns this year and focused spending on core government services. Items crucial to the current and future prosperity of South Carolina were made a priority in this budget. Education funding, the safety of our students, job training, law enforcement education and emergency preparedness are all vital services of government and were adequately addressed. 

The S.C. House sustained eight of the governor’s 34 vetoes. The S.C. Senate received 26 vetoes and sustained one veto. The S.C. Senate was in line with the S.C. House, with the exception of Veto 1, which they sustained. To view all the vetoes and results, go to www.schouse.gov and pull up the House and Senate journals.

Key House veto overrides

u ETV: Earlier in the budget process, the governor agreed to a plan to pay ETV for services rendered to the state for its services to our public schools, law enforcement training and emergency services. When we received the budget vetoes, it became clear that the governor had not held to that agreement and, in fact, vetoed more than 60 percent of ETV’s budget. 

“The governor’s office had asked us to do this very thing and now turned around and vetoed it,” House Majority Leader Kenny Bingham said. 

I heard from many constituents who support ETV’s involvement in educating students, law enforcement training, emergency services and making General Assembly sessions transparent for all to observe. With a plan in place to restructure the operations and cost of these valuable services to our state, the House overrode this veto. 

u Elections: Believing elections are a core government function, the House and Senate voted to allow the State Election Commission to operate and help pay for the 2012 Republican presidential primary. Democrats, whose party does not plan a primary next year, asked Republicans to turn the budget rule into permanent law so that it applies to future presidential primaries, no matter the party. The State Election Commission has about $680,000 on hand. While the total cost of the primary is expected to be $1.5 million, the economic impact is estimated at $80 million from advertising, lodging, meals, etc., plus the national exposure for our state (“free” advertising). 

u Education: The new budget includes $12.4 million for school buses, $20 million to deal with flaws in the statewide school funding formula and $56 million in additional per-student spending. The per-student spending will increase to $1,880, up from the current $1,615, and amends the formula in a way that will boost future funding for local schools. The proviso stipulates that if a school district does not receive funds by the Education Funding Act formula, it will automatically receive 70 percent of the lowest allocation awarded. The General Assembly also directed that about $45 million of one-time aid to school districts go to students with disabilities. 

u Reserve account: We overrode the veto of the $107 million reserve account that includes areas of economic development, tourism advertising, job training and maintenance. There are critically needed funds in this account, particularly for economic development throughout the state. Since the governor did not use her line-item veto authority for this portion of the budget, the majority of the House felt that vetoing the entire reserve account would have been incredibly damaging. If the governor had given us vetoes on specific lines, a more thorough consideration could have been accomplished. Issuing a veto of the entire reserve account required the General Assembly to quickly overturn the veto.

Key sustained vetoes

The General Assembly sustained nine of the governor’s 35 vetoes. Among the vetoes left in place were:

u $118,297 to pay for a nonprofit program to teach entrepreneurship

u $179,856 to help eighth-graders prepare for college  

u $169,487 to improve SAT college entrance-exam scores

The House has adjourned until July 26, when we will return to debate the congressional district map plans at odds between the House and Senate. 

In the interim, I will work on tax reform suggestions to the S.C. House, participate in local and state committees and functions, while providing constituent services. I am always open and appreciative of my constituents’ needs and issues and value your input.

It is an honor and privilege to serve you as your voice in Columbia. I wish everyone a happy and safe summer! 

 

Deborah Long represents the 45th District in the S.C. House of Representatives.