A disturbing result of three of Gov. Nikki Haley's budget vetoes this year is the elimination of two productive agencies and a high-profile medical cost-containment program without any substantive debate and with relatively little actual dollar savings.
The vetoes killing funding for the S.C. Arts Commission, the S.C. Sea Grant Consortium and the state's medical certificate of need program should be overturned when the legislature returns this week.
The Arts Commission and Sea Grant Consortium vetoes, as well as a veto of technical support funding for the state Judicial Department, also show a lack of understanding of missions and operations. When a governor drills down into a $6.7 billion operating budget to make such specific cuts, she and her staff ought to know how things work, particularly if it results in eliminating long-standing agencies.
The Arts Commission, established in 1967, was a target last year, too. Haley's veto eliminates all of the agency's $2 million budget, closing its doors because her vetoes came after the July 1 start of the fiscal year.
The commission supports artists and arts education programs across the state, a mission particularly important to poor, rural areas. The people there benefit from the arts just as much as wealthier, urban areas of the state, but aren't likely to be able to afford it. Its supporters point out that the agency leveraged its relatively small budget into nearly $100 million in local matching grants.
Art is big business and an economic development asset. Creative industries contribute $9.2 billion to the state's economy and support more than 78,000 jobs, according to University of South Carolina researchers.
In her veto message, Haley claims the commission spends 30 percent of its budget on overhead costs, but the commission's director says that figure is the maximum amount allowed under law and doesn't reflect actual spending.
As with the arts, our coastal resources are a huge economic driver, pumping billions of dollars into state and local economies. The Sea Grant Consortium, which began operating in 1980, plays an important role in attracting, distributing, monitoring and accounting for money spent for research and education programs. Other coastal states use such consortiums as vehicles to award federal funding to important research projects. Proposals from public and private entities are weighed on their merits, not the political strengths of a particular university, program or elected official. Critical federal funding could go away without a competitive grant program.
The veto of the consortium's $428,000 operating budget is another example of not understanding an agency's operations. In defending her veto, Haley cited the agency's $6 million budget, but that's the amount of money the consortium will be pursuing during the coming year from other sources, not the cost to operate it.
As for the state's courts, Haley vetoed $2.8 million for court technology services. Chief Justice Jean Toal says the court system and 40 of 46 counties depend on that line of funding to pay for a case management system to store and access records. More and more, such access is expected and needed.
Haley said in her veto message that fees lawmakers authorized the Judicial Department to charge for a new electronic filing system should pay for the department's technology needs. But that system and the fees it is expected to generate won't launch for another 18 months.
Haley's spokesman said the department could look to funding designated for nine new judges, who probably won't be hired until next year, to pay for technology support. That's not a good way to run a department, and it is not an approach to spending that should be encouraged.
Haley's veto of the certificate of need program funding, which totals $727,189, also should be overturned. The program's stated purpose is to hold down medical costs by preventing unnecessary duplication. In her veto message, Haley says decisions about medical facilities and equipment should be left to competition and the free markets. That might be so, but it's an argument for another day. We are left with a law on the books requiring a certificate of need before facilities can be built or equipment purchased, but no way to pay for the process to issue such permits.
If Haley doesn't like the certificate of need program, she should work to change the law. South Carolinians are owed a full, substantive debate on this program and the Arts Commission and Sea Grant Consortium.
These are just four of 81 vetoes totaling $67.5 million. But the concerns raised give us pause about the other 77.