Sunday, July 10, 2011

More local fallout, comment on Haley vetoes

Not all of the state's newspapers have correspondents in Columbia to cover the State House -- unfortunately -- so many papers opt to wait for lawmakers to come home and brief the 'lectorate before tackling some of the big issues of the past week or two. Such is the case with Governor Nikki Haley's vetoes and the legislature's quick disposals of them.

Sen. John Matthews told the Times and Democrat of Orangeburg that it was "telling" that legislative majorities of Haley's own party overturned so many of her vetoes.

"Those issues were vetted on the floors and we thought they were important. The four or five vetoes that were sustained were not significant. It was telling that the Republican leadership is not on the same page with the governor. It would seem to show she is out of step with many South Carolinians."

Drafting her memoir might have distracted her from the needs and wants of the citizenry. After the book is published in January, she may be able to focus better on her work, Senator.

Sen. John Land rapped Haley's attack on funding for public schools, and her inscrutible positions on economic development.

"She vetoed $110 million in the Capital Reserve Fund bill that had 60 to 70 needed maintenance projects for higher education without adequate explanation," Land said. "This was excess revenue we didn't get until late, and she said we didn't need to spend it on education.

"There was even a section where money was allocated for the Department of Commerce to recruit jobs. It didn't make any sense at all."

Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, reflecting a general concern that Haley is not as well-versed in the affairs of the state as a chief executive needs to be -- or merely as observant of conditions on the ground, offered some advice:

Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg said Haley's request that lawmakers use Capital Reserve Fund cash for future budget contingencies is disingenuous.

"To Gov. Haley I would say, ‘Wake up and smell the coffee, the storm is here,'" Cobb-Hunter said. "We are way beyond a rainy day in South Carolina.

"Until the governor is willing to exert the leadership required to deal with the tax mess, there is no real reason for her to lecture the General Assembly on a rainy day fund."

Rep. Bakari Sellers echoed his veteran colleagues.

"She vetoed measures that would improve public education and we can't stand for that in South Carolina," Sellers said. "She is out of touch with the people. We need the Arts Commission and ETV. In this I'm glad to see that common sense prevailed."

Editors of the Charleston Post & Courier issued their own verdict on Haley's misguided vetoes and found the new boss the same as the old boss. "This was pointless," they declared. They advised South Carolinians to pay attention.

To which I offer, politely: 'Tis too late for that. Haley may be a poor excuse for a governor, even a malignant one, but she's what we have for the next 42 months or so. Where were the attention-paying editors of the Post & Courier when the window of opportunity was open? Who did the Post & Courier support in the last election?

Nevertheless, the editors make the most of hindsight, and they make their points well:

We're coming off an instructional week for South Carolina's electorate. Nearly six months after Gov. Nikki Haley took office, everyone finally got to see what she's really all about.

Haley's budget vetoes -- a small percentage of the budget -- were concentrated largely on education, the arts, the environment and routine maintenance to keep the state running. Programs to keep public school teachers in the classroom and train the workforce were inexplicably discarded.

At least when Mark Sanford differed with lawmakers, whether or not you agreed, he always had a serious point. But this was pointless, and the damage could be permanent. The one area where Haley had Sanford beat -- her relationship with lawmakers -- is now out the window.

No wonder the state's business ranking has dropped.

The editors do express gratitude for the General Assembly.

Lawmakers overrode most of Haley's anti-public-education vetoes. They restored $56 million for per-pupil spending in schools and $20 million to some relatively wealthy school districts, like Charleston's, that suffer under the existing funding formula.

And they put back $13 million to help technical colleges train workers for jobs like those at Boeing. Which the governor took ample credit for bringing here.

Sure, the state needs to put a microscope on every dollar it spends. But those are core functions of government. And someone who claims to be so interested in catering to business should realize that companies look at more than tax rates when scouting new locations.

Perhaps some of those areas where the state is lacking, or has little political support, hurt South Carolina's ranking in CNBC's ranking of "America's Top States For Business 2011." This year it dropped to 37, down from 31 last year.

The Legislature gets it. The governor, apparently, doesn't.

Quite right. What this governor got was the Post & Courier's endorsement.

It takes a big editorial board to admit it was wrong. Of course, the Post & Courier hasn't actually done that, yet.

Rather, they put the onus on Haley.

The biggest damage Haley did last week was to herself.

Republican lawmakers in the House and Senate publicly derided her for not keeping her word; they said her staff had misled them. Of course, Haley couldn't be distracted to confirm or deny the charge.

Well, she'd already boarded her flight for New York. Fourth of July weekend was coming, and there were a lot of yet-to-be-disclosed activities to do there. Planes can't wait forever, even for state business.

Back in January, Haley offered few specifics for cutting the budget, but made a point of mentioning the negligible funds devoted to ETV and the Arts Commission. Republican leaders say that later the governor's staff instructed them to just stick those line-items in various other corners of the budget and they'd be fine.

So much for transparency. When Democrats pointed out the shell game, Haley was forced to make good on her threat and veto the money.

The upshot? The Legislature restored the money, publicly derided Haley and swore they wouldn't make the mistake of trusting her again.

And so, we are back to where we started.

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