Tuesday, June 28, 2011

South Carolina's children suffer Nikki Haley's wrath

The least among us -- South Carolina's children -- were ineligible to vote last election day. Governor Nikki Haley apparently interpreted that fact to mean that none of them supported her, so she owes them nothing in return. Today, she inflicted upon them the greatest pain she could muster, stripping from the 2011-2012 budget $76 million for their education in K-12 schools and $12.4 million to buy them new school buses.

It wasn't the largest of her 36 vetoes; she struck out the entire capital reserve fund, totaling $107 million, but that fund is used in many different ways across the state, according to The State's summary of Her Excellency's damage. It includes "money for economic development, tourism and millions for building maintenance, particularly on state college campuses."

That leaves the veto of $76 million for K-12 public schools as the largest single-purpose wound from her attack on the budget.

Haley proved to the arts community that their fears were founded and that she's no friend to them, erasing completely the meager $2.1 million that lawmakers set aside donated to the state Arts Commission.

The bright spot in the summary is that Haley vetoed roughly $680,000 in taxpayer funding for her party's 2012 presidential primary.

But The State's summary gave no indication that Haley struck down a single piece of corporate wealthfare, a single tax break benefiting the state's wealthiest or its business community.

Clearly, the targets of her veto pen were South Carolina's children, too young to vote for her opponent in 2014.

Haley spun her deeds differently, of course, saying that "her goal was to limit growth in state spending to the rate of inflation plus population growth." This concept has been tried and failed in other states, most notably in Colorado where its was enshrined in the state Constitution in 1992 and called the "Taxpayer Bill of Rights" or TABOR. For nearly two decades, it has so wrecked Colorado's economy that lawmakers and citizens there initiated efforts to take it back out of their Constitution.

In fact, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities uses Colorado as the model of what not to do to your state's economy with hare-brained Libertarian notions:

TABOR, a state constitutional amendment adopted in 1992 in Colorado, limits the growth of state and local revenues to a highly restrictive formula: inflation plus the annual change in population. This formula falls far short of being able to fund the ongoing cost of government. At a time when health care costs are growing much faster than inflation and the population is aging, TABOR’s inflation-plus-population formula forces annual reductions in the level of government services.

By creating what is essentially a permanent revenue shortage, TABOR pits state programs and services against each other for survival each year and virtually rules out any new initiatives to address unmet or emerging needs.

This is true even in good economic times. For example, from fiscal year (FY) 1997 through FY 2001, amidst a booming economy, Colorado refunded $3.25 billion in "excess" revenue to taxpayers as required by TABOR. (Whenever revenues for a given year exceed TABOR’s revenue limit, the extra amount must be returned to taxpayers.) Yet even as the state was giving up more than $3 billion in "excess" revenues, its services were deteriorating: average per-pupil funding for K-12 education was falling; several local public health clinics were forced to suspend prenatal services for low-income women because of insufficient program funding; and between April 2001 and October 2002 the state was forced to suspend its requirement that students be fully vaccinated against diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (whooping cough) because Colorado, unlike other states, could not afford to buy the vaccine.

Google "right-wing TABOR formula" and you'll find an assortment of other states that have had this silly and arbitrary straitjacket put on their economic growth.

This is, you know, another illustration that Haley's administration is little more than a third term for former Governor Mark Sanford; during her terms in the House, she "proposed a bill to limit the growth of the state budget every year to the rate of population growth in the state plus inflation, something Gov. Mark Sanford advocated."

The State also drew Sanford into its review of Haley's vetoes, and found this conclusion while searching for good news:

Haley issued 36 vetoes, a far cry from predecessor Mark Sanford who often issued more than 100 vetoes.

In Sanford's case, lawmakers made quick work of delivering override votes.

Haley's vetoes go to the House tomorrow, and I'm hopeful that that chamber can dispatch her handiwork as quickly as it handled Sanford's. A two-thirds vote is needed in the House, then the Senate, to clean up the damage.

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