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Rhetoric vs. Reality: Did the debate over budget vetoes really matter?
web posted July 30, 2012
GUEST OPINION - If you followed the debate
over the state budget and the governor’s budget vetoes, you might have
had the impression that there was genuine disagreement about the size
and scope of government. There was no such disagreement. True, the
governor issued $57.1 million in line item vetoes. But that amounted to
less than one percent of the budget. And while 33 of the governor’s 81
budget vetoes were sustained, these were almost all small-dollar items.
Altogether, the General Assembly sustained about $4 million worth of
budget vetoes – a miniscule .019 percent of the budget.
That’s too bad – this would have been a great year for a knock-down,
drag-out debate over the growth of South Carolina state government. The
legislature’s original $23.6 billion spending plan – well over $1
billion larger than last year’s budget – positively brimmed with favors
for special interests, gratuitous government expansions, and massive
funding hikes for clearly non-core programs and agencies. The
governor’s vetoes touched some items in these categories, but left most
of them alone.
So, at the beginning of the veto debate, we had a $23.641 billion
budget (that’s billion with a “b”). At the end of the debate, we had a
$23.637 billion budget.
Local Pork Projects. In her veto messages, the governor explained that
projects or events she vetoed would benefit very specific communities
or organizations and don’t merit funding from the state. Accordingly,
she vetoed several projects worth, in total, about $1.2 million.
Yet the budget allocated a much larger amount – $5 million – to seven
regional economic development organizations, some of which just happen
to have legislators on their boards, and all of which, by definition,
have only regional significance. These allocations went unchallenged by
the veto pen.
Programs that “Don’t Work.” In her veto messages, the governor insisted
that state government had an obligation to, if necessary, eliminate
programs that “don’t work.” So she vetoed the Writing Improvement
Network, S.C Geographic Alliance-USC, and the Certificate of Need
program, totaling just over $3 million. She also vetoed the Arts
Commission’s entire budget; a $200,000 proviso for the SC
Manufacturer’s Extension Partnership; and the Sea Grant Consortium.
These vetoes were worth just over $2.5 million.
One wonders, then, why a $10 million tax break for Hollywood producers
went untouched, since “film incentives,” as these tax breaks are
called, indisputably don’t work: indeed they generate a net loss in
revenue equal to $0.81 on every dollar. The legislature and governor
also left in their $8 million subsidy program for destination-specific
tourism marketing, and $50,000 for the notoriously over-budget and
underperforming Farmers Market.
Also: funding for the above-mentioned Manufacturing Extension
Partnership – $682,000 for a consulting firm that lobbies state
government – remained unchallenged. Other projects escaped
unchallenged: $250,000 for the McCord Center Safety Improvement
Project, for example, or $393,000 for the National Flight Academy.
Higher Ed Earmarks. Tuition keeps rising at the state’s public
universities even as the universities spend more and more public
resources on projects that have little or nothing to do with the
education of young people. It was encouraging, therefore, to see that
Gov. Haley vetoed earmarked funding to higher education institutions
worth about $6.4 million. These included a Clemson University Plant
Technology Lab, a College of Charleston Digital Technology Pilot
Project, and four others.
Other higher education earmarks, however, went untouched. For instance:
$3.5 million for a training facility at Central Carolina Technical
College, $1 million for a “research vessel” at Coastal Carolina
University, $2 million for a science center at the College of
Excessive Growth. Several agencies and programs saw vast increases from
the previous year’s budget. The governor certainly vetoed a few of
these gratuitous budget hikes. Examples: $3 million for the Rural
Infrastructure Fund, $500,000 for Department of Agriculture marketing
and branding, and the $10 million from the Mortgage Settlement Fund
(supposedly for the purpose of aiding victims of mortgage fraud) going
to the Deal Closing Fund (that is, corporate welfare).
Yet massive increases drew no criticism from the governor. The
Department of Commerce saw an increase of nearly $20 million from last
year. Even if the governor’s $10 million veto had been sustained, the
agency’s budget would have still increased by $10 million.
Additionally, the governor included in her executive budget $3.2
million for Marketing and Promotion in the Department of Agriculture, a
189 percent increase from last year. Lastly, although she vetoed the
extra $10 million to the Closing Fund, she conceded that the fund
already has $15 million – a $5 million increase from last year.
In short: Don’t be fooled. This year’s budget debate wasn’t about
whether government should grow by billion-dollar leaps and bounds. That
question was already decided, and it wasn’t in decided in taxpayers’
Editor's note: Dillon Jones is a policy analyst at the SC Policy Council
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