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House overrides Haley's $2M veto for programs that help elderly residents live independently


COLUMBIA, South Carolina — The South Carolina House voted Tuesday to override most of Gov. Nikki Haley's vetoes, including $2 million for elderly caregivers.

The House voted 103-6 to keep the money in the budget for programs designed to help seniors live at home independently. It was among $18.5 million the Republican governor struck from the Legislature's $7 billion spending plan for state taxes that takes effect July 1.

Of her 76 vetoes, the House sustained just 15 of them, tallying $1.4 million. Eight of those items designated no money.

The Senate is expected on Wednesday to take up the 61 items the House voted to restore. It takes a two-thirds vote by both the House and Senate to override.

The House voted 79-21 to retain a $1,000 monthly increase for lawmakers' in-district expenses, which would double the stipend that hasn't changed since 1995 to $24,000 yearly. Haley, a former three-term House member, said legislators should ask voters if they deserve a raise.

Rep. Nathan Ballentine, R-Chapin, agreed with the governor.

"Voters talk to me about roads, schools and jobs, not more money for the General Assembly," he said.

But Rep. Jim Merrill, R-Charleston, said that couldn't take effect for at least four years. The Charleston Republican said the Legislature needs to increase pay to attract good candidates. Legislators' base salary is $10,400, also unchanged since 1995. They also receive mileage reimbursements for driving to Columbia and stipends to help cover food and hotel rooms while here. Merrill said that doesn't nearly compensate for the time involved.

"More and more people are saying they simply can't afford to serve in the General Assembly," he said. "People say they want better folks in the House of Representatives and Senate but nobody wants to pay them to come here. We're creating a scenario exactly the opposite of what people who want change are trying to achieve."

Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell said Tuesday he was stunned Haley vetoed money for the Office on Aging, which the lieutenant governor oversees.

Haley said there's legitimacy in the program, but the agency is growing too fast. Even after her veto, she said, the office gets nearly $13 million next year from the state, compared with $4.5 million four years ago.

In overriding her request, House members said McConnell convinced them of the need.

Since taking office in 2012, McConnell said, he's worked to eliminate waiting lists of more than 8,000 seniors who needed services as simple as one home-delivered meal a day that could keep them out of more expensive nursing homes. Home and community-based programs cost the state about $1,400 per person yearly, compared to a Medicaid-paid nursing home bed, which costs taxpayers more than $52,000 annually, McConnell said.

"I don't understand why you would slow down saving money," he said.

He noted the office already took a hit of $1.7 million in federal cuts.

McConnell has consistently warned lawmakers they must prepare for the "gray tsunami" that is coming, as the state's senior population is expected to double over the next 15 years, to nearly 2 million people age 60 and older.

"It's a no-brainer," said McConnell, who will soon resign the office to take his new job as president of the College of Charleston. "It's a convincing case that it's a helping hand, not a handout."

Items that won't be funded because the House votes didn't reach the required two-thirds include:

—$350,000 for local economic development initiatives.

—$300,000 to attach utility lines to a new Fripp Island bridge in Beaufort County.

—$200,000 toward and entertainment and sports complex in Spartanburg County.

—$160,000 for new positions at the Human Affairs Commission to deal with a backlog.

—$100,000 for the Francis Marion Trail.

—$75,000 to promote the Carolina Panthers' football training camp in Spartanburg.

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