The South Carolina Arts Commission’s 20 employees were told not to show up for work on Monday after Gov. Nikki Haley vetoed the agency’s entire $2.4 million budget late last week. Standing outside the commission’s locked doors on Monday, Democratic lawmakers and candidates criticized the governor’s short-sighted veto and urged members of the General Assembly to override it.
Rep. James Smith (D-Richland) said the University of South Carolina’s business school recently found that the state’s creative industries contribute more than $9.2 billion to the state’s economy each year, support more than 78,000 jobs, and return $570 million in tax revenues. “We need to continue to support this emerging sector of our state’s economy,” commented Smith.
State Sen. Vincent Sheheen (D-Camden), Haley’s 2010 gubernatorial opponent, accused the governor of once again putting her political career before good policy. “It’s plain that her actions are extremist positions calculated to play to the national audience she so craves,” said Sheheen. “But while Haley may benefit from these destructive actions, our state is suffering.”
According to the South Carolina Radio Network’s Matt Long, Gov. Haley’s veto of the arts commission’s funding may have been based on a faulty understanding of the agency’s funding levels:
Haley had criticized the Arts Commission, saying that 30 percent of its costs were for administration and overhead. However, the Commission’s director Ken May said that was a misinterpretation of the budget. The number comes from a budget proviso that requires the agency to spend 70 percent of its funds on grants and programs. May said the commission spends much more than that.
Lourie slammed Haley for those numbers, “I would ask the governor this: did she come meet with the Arts Commission staff? Does she understand… that what she says in her veto message is absolutely, factually-proven not to be true?”
“Quality arts education contributes to kindergarten though twelve grade educational achievement, which is a critical issue for our state,” said Rep. Bakari Sellers (D-Denmark). “Research shows that students involved in arts education perform better, have better attendance records, and have parents who are more engaged in the education process. Participation in the arts makes the biggest positive difference in achievement among disadvantaged students.”
Lawmakers will return on July 17 to discuss whether to override Haley’s vetoes. Sen. Joel Lourie (D-Richland) told The State’s Otis Taylor he’s confident the House and Senate be able to gather the two-thirds majorities necessary to do so:
“What I think you’ll probably see, whatever the House overrides, the Senate will override quickly,” Lourie said. “I am cautiously optimistic that you’ll see far better than two-thirds.”
State Sen. Hugh Leatherman (R-Florence), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said he hopes the Senate overrides the arts commission veto.
“The arts commission serves a very useful purpose,” he said. “It is there in the schools, out there for our citizens. The arts is an important part of our society and an important part of us.”
Meanwhile, arts supporters have organized an Occupy for the Arts rally outside the State House for the Monday before lawmakers return. The event has been propelled by an online movement supporting the arts commission that is quickly going viral.
“It’s a phenomenally stupid cut,” wrote Columbia blogger Ashley F. Miller. “Our state has one of the two best arts in education programs in the country! We don’t do a lot well in South Carolina, but this is one of the few we really do. And now we’re about to be the only state in the country without a public arts agency.”
As budget expert John Ruoff explained in PPR’s On Record column Monday morning, the arts are by no means the only controversial veto issued by Gov. Haley. Count on Palmetto Public Record to explore more of those cuts before lawmakers return later this month, and to let you know what happens when they vote on the vetoes.