Thursday, June 30, 2011

Haley makes heroes of local lawmakers

Following in former Governor Mark Sanford's footsteps, Governor Nikki Haley has accomplished a tricky feat: She has made heroes of local lawmakers across South Carolina who voted to override her vetoes.

Today's edition of the Aiken Standard offers one example of the phenomenon:

On Tuesday, S.C. Rep. Roland Smith, R-Warrenville, said he couldn't predict how the House members would react to 34 budget vetoes from Gov. Nikki Haley. About 24 hours later, he was expressing surprise by the huge margins that the House overrode 26 of those vetoes.

The Senate also overrode all but one of those vetoes, leaving funds in the budget for K-12 education, higher education, ETV, the S.C. Arts Commission and much more.

Smith said Lexington lawmaker Kenny Bingham was frustrated with Haley over her veto of $6 million going to ETV to cover the agency's education programming and training for law enforcement and other programs. In effect, Bingham felt the governor had vetoed a funding plan for ETV that she herself had requested.

"He was very upset, and that's putting it mildly," said Smith. "At a meeting this morning, (Haley's) staff people did a briefing, and some legislators felt they (the staffers) didn't have the information they should have. That was somewhat surprising, but the governor has been in for six months with a totally new staff. They are still learning."

But she seems unaware of what's she done: "The Associated Press reported Haley stated the overrides of her vetoes indicate that legislators are overspending."

In addition to counting their local representatives as saviors, local officials are counting the benefits from all those overridden vetoes.

The overrides of education funding means a swing of about $3.6 million for the Aiken County School District, said comptroller Tray Traxler. The General Assembly reinstated $56 million toward raising per-pupil allocations statewide. Aiken County had budgeted $1,860 per student in anticipation of the increase. If Haley's veto had been sustained, the amount would have been $1,788, a loss of about $1.6 million, Traxler said. With the override, however, the district will get an allocation of $1,880, which will mean about $2 million overall.

In addition, state lawmakers put back supplemental funds for several districts, which will mean another $1.6 million for the Aiken County school system. Traxler said the School Board didn't budget that amount in anticipation of a change in a school funding formula that wold reduce the allocation in that amount. However, the House and Senate will provide $20 million overall for Aiken and other districts, "holding them harmless" for that prospective loss of funds.

"This is great news," said board member Levi Green. "We have to make sure we use that money wisely. If something happens and we get a hit (in funding) next year, we can tap those funds."

When the House members saw all the governor's vetoes directed at education, Green said, "I think they had a clear understanding of what she was doing. They couldn't let her take money off the table that's desperately needed for education."

It's good news for all public schools in South Carolina, said another board member, Keith Liner. The money is not a windfall, he said. Under the state's own funding formula, school districts should be receiving nearly $2,800 per student.

"This really sends a message that at least the House and Senate are supportive of public education."

Seeing the backlash against the vetoes -- and against lawmakers who voted to sustain them -- even Haley's supporters have to say something to keep them in local voters' good graces:

S.C. Sen. Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, voted to sustain the veto of the $56 million for K-12 education, opposing one-time funding for ongoing needs. However, he agreed to override the other $20 million, because those funds were preventing the loss of formula funding for Aiken County and other districts. Overall, however, Massey wasn't happy with the governor, either.

"The vetoes she issued were relatively insignificant," he said. "The big money items where there is significant growth in spending, she didn't touch. A lot of conservatives thought she would try to trim down things. We're very disappointed."

Those who have been around since Haley was in college are managing the matter with deftness.

S.C. Rep. Bill Clyburn, D-Aiken, agreed that the Wednesday session was one of the most unusual in his 15 years of service.

"I feel so much better about the education spending," he said. "Everybody knows how important ETV is and public safety training. This is not a party thing."

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