Thursday, June 16, 2011

What Constitution did Nikki Haley swear to uphold?

Why does South Carolina's present governor not support the public education system established in the South Carolina Constitution, the very Constitution she swore to protect and defend in her oath of office? Since taking her office in January, she has missed no opportunity to undermine, dismiss and promote alternatives to the system that serves more than 90 percent of South Carolina's school-age children.

And today's newspapers bring word that as lawmakers debate how to divide up a small windfall in unanticipated tax revenues, Haley has issued a veto threat if the legislature spends that money on our public schools. She demands instead that these funds be used, at best, to pay down state debt or otherwise to be refunded to taxpayers in the form of tax cuts.

It is, to put it generously, difficult to understand why a governor so despises the hundreds of thousands of children who attend public schools that she would withhold state funds from them, especially when the vast majority of lawmakers are willing to invest of the futures of those children.

And this is not a single veto threat, but a blanket veto threat in all future instances when the Board of Economic Advisors revises upward its revenue projections and additional funds become available.

Haley also said that, in the future, anytime a three-member panel of state economists increases its estimates of how much money the state will bring in, as it did last month, that money should go for tax cuts, rebates or to pay off state debt.

That position is certain to endear Haley to her Tea Party supporters, who say they are taxed enough already.

But it will upset others who say that, after cutting billions from the state’s general fund during the just-ended Great Recession, recovering state revenues should be used to restore services that were cut or can justify more support.

At present, the BEA calculates that the state has an additional $210 million above the earlier estimates that lawmakers used to draft their initial budget.

The Senate added $105 million for K-12 funding and $100 million to help businesses pay off nearly $1 billion in federal loans that the state took out to be able to continue paying jobless benefits after the state’s unemployment fund went bust. Some businesses saw their unemployment insurance bills increase six-fold after lawmakers voted to raise rates to repay the federal loans.

The House earmarked $146 million for business tax relief and added $55 million to K-12 funding. House members argued providing businesses more tax relief might encourage them to hire more employees.

Haley made it clear she does not like the Senate spending plan.

“If you’re not giving it in tax relief, if you’re not giving it to pay down the debt, you send it back to the taxpayers – that’s where it belongs,” Haley said.

If we follow that philosophy to its ultimate end, it means that once the state debt is entirely paid off, then the state government would cease to exist, having been gradually and completely de-funded.

It seems to suggest that Haley has a yet-undisclosed version of the South Carolina Constitution that tells her which state obligations and institutions are "core functions" and which are not. The version available to the public clearly establishes a system of free public schools, meant to be accessible by all of South Carolina's children, and this is the one to which she swore an oath to uphold in January.

By employing her line-item veto, Haley could make it much more difficult for lawmakers to increase state spending, deleting added money.

“From now, going forward, whenever money falls from that money tree – and it does every year – it’s not ‘Where do we spend it and how do we spend it?’ It’s ’Give it back to the taxpayer,’ ” she said.

Haley said she will target her budget vetoes at “anything that’s not that core function of government,” including ETV public television and radio, and the state Arts Commission. Asked if her target list of non-core functions included K-12 education, Haley responded only that the House found a way to balance its budget proposal without the additional money.

Are there, in fact, two versions of our state Constitution -- one for the governor, and one for the people?

Thankfully, someone else is asking questions about Haley's motives and veto threats.

But Senate Minority Leader John Land, D-Clarendon, said the state is not meeting its obligations for education and health care, having cut its budget from $7.3 billion in 2008 to $5.1 billion for the fiscal year that ends June 30.

Land recited a list of tax breaks approved by the state in the last decade, including the $100 million in unemployment tax relief to businesses, property tax relief, and business and personal income tax cuts. House lawmakers estimate they have cut $20 billion in taxes since Republicans took control of that body in 1995.

“You have too many needs that are going unmet,” Land said. “South Carolina has been very, very good as far as giving back to the taxpayer.”

All of which is further evidence that elections have consequences.

No comments:

Post a Comment