The General Assembly met last week to consider Governor Haley’s budget vetoes. Having originally decided to meet in September, the Legislature changed its plans because two of the budget vetoes wiped out two state agencies and other vetoes created uncertainties that needed to be resolved quickly, like funding of teacher pay raises before the start of the school year.
The House and Senate responded to the Governor’s 81 vetoes with a practical and common sense approach and considered the impact of the investments and value of the work to South Carolinians. A mixture of these statewide expenditure vetoes were upheld or sustained after debate during which reasonable people could disagree. The House voted to sustain more than a third of the vetoes, while overriding the rest. Overall, 33 vetoes were sustained by the House and Senate, amounting to nearly $2.9 million in a $6.7 billion general fund budget.
As mentioned earlier, the issue of teacher pay raises needed to be resolved before the start of the school year. After four years of no increase in pay and loss of pay due to furloughs, the General Assembly set fully funding a 2 percent teacher pay raise as a priority. Teaching is a profession with many challenges, and our teachers are certainly deserving of a raise, especially considering South Carolina teachers’ pay lags behind their peers in other states. The House voted 113-1 to override this veto; the Senate voted 41 to 2 to override.
In a state that ranks eighth-highest in the nation for men murdering women and where the incidents of rape exceed the national average, the veto of $453,000 for the S.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault to assist victims of rape and abuse and to provide prevention programs was disheartening. There is a public cost for these crimes, including medical and mental health services, law enforcement, lost wages, and costs to employers for absenteeism and employee turnover. This is an important issue and is worthy of our attention. The House overrode the veto 111 to 0, and the Senate also voted overwhelmingly to override the veto.
The veto of the Arts Commission struck a public nerve, and the response was strong to override. We are proud of our arts heritage. So much of the arts in South Carolina celebrate our communities and the historic aspects of our life in this state. The Arts Commission works throughout our state and especially in our schools providing opportunities otherwise unavailable to students, particularly in rural areas. Leadership on strategic, statewide issues -- such as arts education -- is one of the key roles that the commission plays and is part of the unique public value that it provides.
The arts are an integral part of our tourism industry and are important for recruiting industry and jobs to our state. According to a recent study by researchers at the Moore School of Business at the University of South Carolina, creative industries represent approximately 3 percent of the total state economy. These creative industries also produce over $570 million in tax revenue for the state annually. The return on investment the Arts Commission provides our state is too great to forego.
Kershaw County enjoys a vibrant arts environment that enhances our community’s quality of life and economy. In addition to the support it receives from private donors, our Fine Arts Center of Kershaw County depends on grants and other support from the Arts Commission to carry out its mission, including its outstanding School Arts Program. This is true for arts organizations across the state. The House overrode the veto 110 to 5; the Senate voted 30 to 10 to override.
It is unfortunate that the governor’s high-profile fight against the Arts Commission and regrettable veto of funds for our state’s rape crisis centers overshadow many of the positive aspects of this year’s budget. A small sampling of these positive aspects of the budget include pay raises for teachers, state employees and law enforcement; funding for the Charleston Port; and tax relief for small businesses. I will continue to work to see that South Carolina makes wise investments for the economic health of the state and its citizens.