The S.C. House of Representatives overrode Gov. Nikki Haley's line-item veto of $350,000 in funding for Waddell Mariculture Center, a research and hatchery facility on the Colleton River operated by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.
The House voted 114-2 Wednesday to override the veto, with Beaufort County representatives voting in favor.
"It is a world-class facility," Rep. Michael Pitts, R-Laurens, said on the House floor in support of overriding the veto.
The state Senate will take up the issue Thursday.
The veto comes after $900,000 in one-time money for repairs to the facility was stripped from the Legislature's compromise budget that was sent to Haley. The governor's veto would also strip money designated to fund its operations.
That would not mean the end of the center, however -- DNR can still fund the center with money budgeted for the entire department or from its reserves. Indeed, since funding for the center was slashed in the mid-2000s, it has relied on proceeds from saltwater fishing license fees, grants and donations, according to director Al Stokes.
Nonetheless, that keeps the Waddell Center in a precarious spot, he said.
"There are a lot of projects that are supported by the (licenses) revenue fund besides the mariculture center," Stokes said. "When we use those funds for paying the electrical bill, we don't put it back into research. This is a great step in the right direction, and we are very appreciative of the House's action."
The research facility supports the state's $1 billion saltwater fishing and seafood industry. Its staff, which includes four full-time state employees, four full-time, grant-funded positions and a handful of interns, replenishes and studies the health of local fish stocks. It also researches new production methods that could reduce the nation's growing dependency on foreign seafood.
"Tourism is the No. 1 industry in this state. People don't come to see the concrete and asphalt of our cities. They come for the natural resources," Pitts said. " ... Anglers and outdoorsmen spend $1.5 billion a year in our state hunting and fishing. That is why I'm going to ask you to override this veto. We need to re-stock fisheries in the state."
Haley, in her veto message, noted that she supported increased funding for several DNR projects in her executive budget, including hiring additional law enforcement officers and hydrologists. However, she opposes a new, recurring line item for the Waddell Center.
She is willing to consider awarding one-time money to the center next year -- should funds be available -- "but in the meantime, responsible stewardship of taxpayer resources requires that we be disciplined enough to set priorities and only fund the most critical needs," Haley wrote in her veto message.
Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, said he supports Gov. Haley's "dedication to controlling the growth of state government by limiting it to core functions," but will vote to override her veto.
"The appropriation is for a core function of government, in that Waddell's mission is to protect our state's fisheries," Davis wrote in an email to The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette.
As for the $900,000 stripped from the budget for center upgrades, Davis and Rep. Bill Herbkersman, R-Bluffton, have said money to repair the center's tanks and pumps, it's cracked walls, and skylights could come from existing DNR appropriations, reserves or a combination of both.
Davis, Herbkersman and Rep. Weston Newton, R-Bluffton, plan to meet with director Stokes in the coming weeks to work on a repair reschedule for DNR review and approval.
The 30-year-old building has also had no major improvements in years.