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Gov. Haley issues her largest number of budget vetoes at 87, but 2nd-lowest amount at $30M

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COLUMBIA, South Carolina — South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley thanked legislators Tuesday after issuing 87 budget vetoes that strike $30 million from the Legislature's budget package.

It was the highest number of line-item vetoes Haley has issued in her five years as governor, but the dollar amount struck from the more than $7 billion plan for state taxes is the second lowest.

Haley said she did not veto more because legislators largely did as she asked. She applauded them for putting more than $300 million of surplus toward roads and for not borrowing money for construction. Haley's opposition helped defeat proposals in both the House and Senate to borrow primarily for projects at universities and technical colleges.

"While it was heated during the legislative session, I think it was productive for the taxpayers because we did end up getting a lot of the results we were hoping to get," Haley said.

But she criticized what her veto message calls "old-fashioned pork." That included $1 million toward a new Congressional Medal of Honor Museum in Charleston Harbor, $250,000 for renovating the Horry County Museum, $125,000 for marketing the boyhood home of President Woodrow Wilson in Columbia, and $100,000 for a playground in Myrtle Beach for children with disabilities.

"What we saw was the rebirth of earmarks," she said. "Those are all worthy projects for the local areas to fund. It is not for state tax dollars to go to. Let the taxpayers decide if they want to give to a playground."

Rep. Chip Limehouse, R-Mount Pleasant, said he can easily defend money he requested for the Medal of Honor Museum, currently on board the USS Yorktown. He calls it an economic incentive, rather than an earmark, to bring in more tourist revenue.

"We run the risk of the museum leaving South Carolina," he said. "I'm proud to support the great patriots across our country."

House Ways and Means Chairman Brian White, R-Anderson, said designations for museums and historic sites are about preserving the state's history for future generations. He also questioned why Clemson University, Haley's alma mater, was the only college to have funding vetoed.

Haley struck $2.1 million for new positions at Clemson and its statewide research and extension services. She called the amount excessive and said the state's investment in colleges should be focused on degree programs.

Haley issued her line-item vetoes shortly before midnight Monday. Legislators will decide next week whether to override them.

They include items she's previously tried to eliminate, such as $250,000 for the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition in Charleston.

She struck $2 million to the state Election Commission to run the 2016 presidential primaries. As she did four years ago, Haley says the state's Republican and Democratic parties should pay for the contests. Legislators overrode that 2011 veto.

She also struck a clause authorizing up to $300,000 for a study of state employees' salaries. The budget contains no cost-of-living increase for employees but does provide a one-time $800 bonus to those with salaries under $100,000.

The House put the study in the budget as legislators of both parties agreed some employees are paid far too little.

Haley said a study's unnecessary.

"It's been done before," she said. "Don't waste time or money doing an independent study."

In March, officials said the last such study was conducted in 1995, when the minimum wage was $4.25 an hour.

GOP Rep. Mike Pitts, who advocated for the study, said Tuesday state employees deserve an updated and accurate one.

The session ended without a long-term plan for fixing South Carolina's roads and bridges. But Haley credits legislators for putting money to roads without raising the gas tax.

Money she credits as going to roads includes $216 million being distributed to counties for repair of existing roads, $70 million to partially fund infrastructure she promised to Volvo, $4 million to partially refund counties' cleanup costs of a 2014 ice storm, and $50 million that will sit in an account for future borrowing for large highway projects. It can't be used until the Legislature passes a long-term fix for roads.

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