McMaster vetoes SC lawmakers projects in $11 billion budget
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster wants lawmakers to cut more than $150 million in spending on local projects out of the state budget, even choosing some of his own priorities to make a point.
McMaster issued 15 budget vetoes on Friday to the nearly $11 billion spending plan, including six vetoes that take out money meant for 226 different things, from help for local festivals hurt by COVID-19 to body cameras and armored vehicles for local police agencies.
Individual lawmakers suggest the projects, which are then grouped together and voted on by the whole General Assembly.
McMaster said the revamped system started this budget is better than the past when many projects weren’t made public until well after the budget was in place but still don’t provide enough information or protection for taxpayers.
The governor pointed out items in the budget like “Town of Brunson $50,000.”
“What’s it to be used for? I don’t know. The people of Brunson don’t know,” McMaster said of the Hampton County town with about 550 people.
McMaster said that meant he had to veto items like $1 million for the Georgetown port he wanted because it was in with vague items like “Palmetto Goodwill $500,000.”
“In order to eliminate one, I must eliminate others,” the governor said.
The General Assembly gets the final say. They return Tuesday. Lawmakers against the spending couldn’t stop it initially, but the House and Senate must agree with a two-thirds vote to get the spending back in the budget. The spending plan for the next year begins Thursday.
McMaster proposed that instead of lawmakers controlling the money, it should be put into one pot for a public grant process, awarded by merit with the entire system open for transparency.
McMaster emphasized how much he agreed with this budget. The Republican governor has made it a point to work with the Republican-dominated General Assembly throughout the budget process since taking office in 2017. McMaster issued more than 40 vetoes in 2017 and 2018 and 28 budget vetoes the last time lawmakers wrote a full budget, in 2019.
The first two-and-a-half pages of McMaster’s veto message was full of praise for lawmakers for finding common ground with him on items like a $1,000 raise for teachers — the governor did point out he proposed a $3,000 yearly pay bump — and $40 million for job training that manufacturers and other businesses say are critical to keep South Carolina’s economy strong.
The budget also includes McMaster priorities like getting a nurse and police officer into every public school and raises and bonuses for law enforcement agencies.
The spending plan also set aside $60 million for a 2.5% raise for all state employees.
It did not include tax relief, something both the governor and many Republican lawmakers have pushed for in the past. But COVID-19 and the potential for economic disaster that did not quite develop took that issue off the table in 2021.
“We always want to reduce taxes. We always want to be sure government is running more efficiently. There will be opportunity to do all of those things,” the governor said.
The $10.8 billion budget is nearly $2 billion bigger than the 2020 spending plan where lawmakers decided to just save up the extra money for the year as a hedge in case tax revenues plunged during the pandemic.
But instead the state did better than expected and lawmakers found hundreds of ways to spend the one-time money on pedestrian bridges, senior centers, new local law enforcement buildings and police cars, convention center repairs and upgrades, the Special Olympics, a hearse for a veterans cemetery, baseball field and recreation facilities and hundreds of other projects.
The spending plan considered by the governor does not include the $2.5 billion that lawmakers will control of the nearly $9 billion South Carolina is getting from federal COVID-19 relief. McMaster already has a committee considering recommendations to spend that money, and the General Assembly plans a special session to finalize plans in a few months.
Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP.