Nikki Haley Vetoes On Funding For Arts, Teachers, Rape Crisis Centers Overridden By State Lawmakers

By Harriet McLeod

CHARLESTON, S.C., July 18 (Reuters) - South Carolina lawmakers voted in a special session on Wednesday to override dozens of budget vetoes by the state's governor that cut funding for teachers' pay raises, an arts commission, and non-profit rape crisis centers.

Republican Governor Nikki Haley earlier this month vetoed $67.5 million of the state's $6.7 billion spending plan for 2012-2013 in a effort to shut down state programs she said "don't work."

But lawmakers in the Republican-led state legislature said Haley went too far and moved to restore some of the funds, including $10 million for teachers' pay raises, $3.9 million for an arts commission and $450,000 for the state's 15 private, non-profit rape crisis centers.

"Of all the vetoes that need to be overridden, this is the most important one," said Republican Senator Jake Knotts, voicing support for the rape crisis centers."Victims of assault, women and children, are the ones who need the most help. It's money well-spent," he said.

The rape crisis centers served 5,000 victims of sexual assault last year, said Melonea Marek, executive director of People Against Rape in Charleston.

Along with Massachusetts, South Carolina was one of the two states whose budget was not signed before the start of the new fiscal year on July 1. State lawmakers, however, approved a continuing resolution to the keep the state government running.

Haley, who was elected in 2010 with strong Tea Party support, won office on pledges to reduce government spending.

Senator Vincent Sheheen, a Democrat, welcomed the news the arts commission would continue to be funded.

"We just saved South Carolina's Arts Commission from extinction," he wrote on his Facebook page. "It is frustrating to continue to see the efforts of people who keep wanting us to be a third world country."

The vote putting the money back in the budget came after hundreds of arts supporters occupied the lawn in front of the statehouse on Monday with signs, drum circles and performances.

State lawmakers had an extra $1.4 billion to spend in this year's budget because revenue was higher than expected.

But some lawmakers said the state should have been more aggressive in holding back spending in a difficult economy.

"We're spending everything we've got," said Republican Senator Shane Massey. "We're not out of the woods yet. There has to be a line." (Editing by Kevin Gray. Desking by Christopher Wilson)



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