COLUMBIA — A close vote in the House seems to indicate Gov. Nikki Haley could have more success this year with line-item vetoes on the Legislature’s budget proposal, but legislators’ disagreements might not carry over to her specific cuts.
The Republican has until midnight Tuesday to issue her line-item strikes from the Legislature’s $6.7 billion spending plan. Her cuts face their first test in the House, which, by a 54-52 vote last week, barely passed the compromise worked out by a House-Senate panel. Overriding vetoes requires a two-thirds majority in each chamber.
Legislative leaders contend the squeaker can be attributed to a single issue: tax credits for private school tuition, an idea that has divided Republicans and rallied Democrats since its 2004 introduction. Greg Foster, the spokesman for House Speaker Bobby Harrell, noted that earlier budget versions passed the House overwhelmingly.
The vote over school choice “doesn’t serve as a litmus test for any veto override,” Foster said. “We’ll have to address those as a body when they’re issued.”
After nearly a decade of failed attempts, supporters of private school choice succeeded in inserting into the budget a program limited to students with disabilities and capped at $8 million. Opponents worry
what that could bring in coming years.
Before the vote, House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, D-Columbia, made clear that Democrats could not support the budget compromise because of that issue, which didn’t exist in the initial House spending plan passed in March.
But debate over school choice is over for the year, since Haley generally supports private school tax credits.
Exactly what Haley will veto is a guessing game. She’s making no public hints.
Democrats asked for a commitment Thursday that she won’t veto an expansion of full-day 4-year-old kindergarten. The $26 million designation extends the state-paid program to 17 high-poverty school districts, increasing access for needy children in 53 districts statewide.
Democrats have pushed for an expansion ever since legislators created a limited pilot program in 2006 in response to a court order over education funding.
It’s a “responsible investment that is one of the most cost-effective ways of improving public education and helping to prepare our next generation of workers for the new economy,” said state Democratic Party Chairman Jaime Harrison. “So, Gov. Haley, stand up for children.”
Others worry that Haley will veto the borrowing portion of legislators’ infrastructure funding compromise.
The budget designates up to $141 million in state taxes next fiscal year toward repairing roads and bridges. The three-pronged plan is expected to provide $800 million worth of construction through borrowing and federal match money, but only if $50 million of it is used to issue bonds.
In her State of the State address, Haley called improving the state’s crumbling infrastructure essential for both safety and economic development. But she guaranteed a veto if legislators raised taxes to do so. While the budget doesn’t cross that line, Haley could side
with the Legislature’s tea party-minded Republicans who oppose government borrowing.
Some of Haley’s vetoes are predictable. For example, since taking office, she has struck all funding for the state Arts Commission and Sea Grants Consortium, which works with the state’s universities to research coastal issues. Those vetoes have yet to stick.
She has also consistently vetoed giving tax dollars to nonprofits, which last year included spending $454,000 on 15 rape crisis centers. That veto outraged legislators, who unanimously overrode it. A year later, the Legislature designated $700,000 to rape crisis centers statewide in its 2013-14 plan.
House Majority Leader Bruce Bannister predicts Haley will find success on other such earmarks, noting “there’s a good bit of angst” among Republicans on that front.
“I anticipate a large number of vetoes will be sustained this year,” said Bannister, R-Greenville.
Budget items similar to what Haley has previously vetoed include $1.3 million to renovate a county library, $350,000 for an HIV prevention project, $300,000 for a Charleston research center on black history, $100,000 to repair a county courthouseand $200,000 for a railroad museum.
Last year, the Legislature upheld 41 percent of Haley’s 81 vetoes. But those removed just $4 million from legislators’ combined $6.8 billion budget and capital reserve spending bills. In 2011, the Legislature sustained nine of her 35 vetoes, taking out just $508,000.
The total proposed budget for 2013-14 is $22.8 billion, when adding in $7.6 billion in federal money and $8.4 billion in “other funds,” which includes agency fees, fines and grants. The fiscal year starts July 1.