Gov. Henry McMaster used his veto pen to nix $56.4 million from the state budget, including millions to upgrade the state's aging school buses. The 41 vetoes represent a fraction of the state's roughly $8 billion budget lawmakers sent him last week.
McMaster only struck $20.5 million in money budgeted from the S.C. Education Lottery should the agency collect more money than expected this year. McMaster acknowledges the need for better school buses, his office said, but notes the purpose of the lottery, created 17 years ago, is to fund education scholarships.
“If additional lottery proceeds become available in the next year, they should be carried forward for use as scholarships for South Carolinians,” McMaster said in his veto message.
Should the veto be sustained, roughly $8 million will remain in the budget for school bus replacements this coming fiscal year.
McMaster also vetoed a budget proviso aimed at weakening the Commission on Higher Education’s role to oversee and approve campus building projects.
“The CHE must be allowed to exercise its oversight authority,” McMaster wrote. “As governor, I look forward to appointing commission members who exercise prudent and fair judgement.”
McMaster also nixed a proviso that allows county transportation committees to divert up to 20 percent of their funds—derived from county gas tax revenue—for non-paving projects, such as sidewalks. McMaster called out gas tax spending when he pushed back against a 12-cent per gallon gas tax increase for road improvements. The increase became law after legislators overturned his veto in May.
McMaster restored more than $16 million in funding for the state Conservation Bank. The bank protects ecologically significant land from willing landowners. Between 2004 and November 2016 the bank has spent $151.8 million to conserve more than 288,000 acres of land.
“We must preserve South Carolina’s most important assets, in this case our great natural beauty and resources, which is why I vetoed an effort to cripple the Conservation Land Bank,” McMaster said in a video message.
House and Senate budget committees drew up the budget over the four-month legislative session that ended May 11. However, lawmakers did not reach an agreement on it before they left Columbia, forcing a six-member compromise committee to hammer out the details over three weeks.
Top lawmakers suggested they would not return to take up budget vetoes until next year, a move which complicates funding for those agencies affected by the vetoes. Lawmakers can overturn any governor’s veto with a two-thirds majority vote in both the House and Senate.
The budget year begins July 1.
Governors propose budgets at the start of the session in January, as former Gov. Nikki Haley did days before she resigned to become the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. Budgets allow governors to outline funding priorities and legislative platforms. After releasing it, they have little ability to influence it other than by working with lawmakers, using their bully pulpit and the veto pen.
Still, McMaster—who is running for governor next year—looks forward to crafting his own budget.
“Ultimately, the best way to control the growth of government is to reduce the amount of revenue available for the government to spend by lowering taxes, demonstrating fiscal responsibility, establishing priorities and embracing transparency,” McMaster wrote, “The executive budget I send you in January will contain proposals consistent with this position.”