South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley eliminated the entire budget of her state’s Arts Commission in a late-night veto last week. The drastic cut involves two line vetoes out of 81 that Haley delivered on the 2012–13 state budget — one blocking the Arts Commission’s $1.9 million in state funding (veto #1) and another blocking $500,000 in grant money (veto #21).
Among the other spending that Haley struck down is the entire budget of the environmental Sea Grant Consortium and $10 million to help raise teacher salaries, as well as funds for prescription drugs for AIDS patients and to buy land to preserve the first US community of freed slaves on Hilton Head Island. According to the Associated Press, Haley called all of these “pork projects,” elaborating in familiarly high-blown rhetoric:
This was a disappointment. It’s embarrassing for them. It’s embarrassing for me, and it should be infuriating to the taxpayers. This is taking bacon home to their people. I know the people of this state don’t want it. The people of this state want tax relief.
The Republican Haley, who is Tea Party and Sarah Palin approved, has said she believes the arts should be funded private money, allowing taxpayers to choose what organizations to support. The State has a quote from her spokesman, which sums up her position (emphasis ours):
While the governor loves the arts, she does not believe the Arts Commission, which uses significant taxpayer dollars to fund administrative costs, is a core function of government — and she has been clear about this since her first State of the State address. The arts and Arts Commission are not the same thing, and those who represent that they are, are doing the taxpayers of South Carolina a real disservice.
Indeed, Haley has made her feelings on the arts continually clear: she eliminated all funding for both the Arts Commission and the Sea Grant Consortium last year, too, but the legislature overturned the vetoes. Both the state House and Senate will reconvene next week to consider overrides.
In the meantime, the timing of the decision has placed the Arts Commission in an awkward position: because the legislature didn’t pass the 2012–13 budget until after the fiscal year had already begun, the budget became effective immediately after Haley delivered her vetoes. The commission was therefore forced to close, because it has no money with which to pay staff.
Plenty of people in South Carolina have denounced the cuts, including a group of Democratic lawmakers. Arts Commission Executive Director Ken May is trying to avoid focusing on Haley’s partisan stance and rhetoric, however, writing on the South Carolina Arts Alliance‘s Facebook page:
While this IS a political issue … it is NOT a partisan issue. Remember, we are in this budget thanks to broad bi-partisan backing in the General Assembly. There are more strong supporters of the arts in both the Republican and Democratic caucuses now than perhaps ever before, but that could change if our rhetoric is perceived as leaning too far to the left or the right or becomes disrespectful of our elected representatives.