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South Carolina governor vetoes just $1.5M from $13B budget

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster announces his budget vetoes for the state's 2023-24 fiscal year budget on Tuesday, June 20, 2023, in Columbia, South Carolina. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Jeffrey Collins/AP
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster announces his budget vetoes for the state's 2023-24 fiscal year budget on Tuesday, June 20, 2023, in Columbia, South Carolina. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster vetoed just $1.5 million out of the state's $13 billion budget for next fiscal year, he announced Tuesday, demonstrating an unparalleled level of cooperation between the state's General Assembly and its chief executive.

With such a small amount of spending in question — barely over 0.01% of the 2023-24 fiscal year budget or less than two months of Clemson University football coach Dabo Swinney's salary — leaders in the General Assembly said they would end the 2023 session and wait until 2024 to take up the 11 vetoes.

"We have communicated, collaborated and cooperated with the legislative leadership. And it has been unprecedented," McMaster said Tuesday. "I'm not sure there has been a time in recent history where a governor's staff has been so immersed in the budget process."

The 11 vetoes mostly involve spending requested by individual lawmakers that the governor said either didn't provide enough information or didn't go through the proper channels.

McMaster cut out $275,000 that was supposed to go to a group called the Mental Wealth Alliance founded by entertainer Charlamange tha God, saying the rent, operating costs, massage chairs, yoga and healthy cooking classes planned for the money were "not an appropriate use of state funds."

The governor knocked out $250,000 for a local cable channel that would broadcast South Carolina State University, Vorhees University and Claflin University sports as well as high school games in Bamberg, Calhoun and Orangeburg counties. McMaster said the organizers of the channel should contact South Carolina Educational Television for help.

There were vetoes for a duplicated proposal and a few items that had already been dealt with before the spending plan landed on the governor's desk earlier this month.

The 11 vetoes worth $1.5 million were the lowest in recent memory. Last year, McMaster issued 73 vetoes worth $53 million. In 2021, he tried to nix $150 million.

There were still hundreds of projects requested by individual senators or House members for downtown revitalizations, festivals, park improvements and other local projects that in the past have been frequent targets for the governor's veto pen.

This year, McMaster said he met with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Harvey Peeler and House Ways and Means Chairman Bruce Bannister weeks before the chambers passed the budget and culled out projects that didn't seem important or had vague information.

"It wasn't necessary." McMaster said of the dozens of budget vetoes he issued in past years. "We worked it all out as we went along.

It seemed like everybody got something as tax revenues continue to roll into the state at record levels. Budget writers had well over $1 billion more to spend for the 2023-24 fiscal year.

The governor's office asked lawmakers for and received $200 million for the Office of Resilience for a fund to help with the aftermath of natural disasters.

Along with a pay raise of at least 5% for every state employee, the spending plan also covers any increase in health insurance premiums.

Some law enforcement positions, like state troopers, state agents, and officers and nurses in prisons, could see 10% or more in raises.

The budget includes more than $1 billion to help Volkswagen-backed Scout Motors build a plant for electric SUVs near Columbia and about $120 million in a fund to help rural districts build schools.

The new budget starts July 1.