Democratic lawmakers voiced their opposition Monday to Gov. Nikki Haley’s recent budget vetoes in a Monday press conference under a blistering sun in the parking lot of the S.C. Arts Commission.
The commission is closed until further legislative action, as Haley’s vetoes cut $1.9 million in state level funding and $500,000 in funding earmarked for grants. Haley said on Friday that the agency is redundant, as it can receive private funds and can apply for funding through grants.
The 20-person SCAC staff waits in limbo, unable to work, until legislators convene next week.
Ken May, executive director of SCAC, said he waits in limbo and cannot pay his staff until the vetoes are overruled.
May said that he fully anticipated being cut, as the commission budget was cut last year, and said he is hearing positive news that the vetoes will not hold when legislature meets next week.
“We’re very excited about where next year’s budget puts us,” May said. “As long as we can get that budget.”
May said that most of his staff is volunteering with the S.C. Arts Alliance, an arts advocacy group, until they can be paid wages.
South Carolina arts groups have planned an “Occupy the Arts” protest for Monday from 6-9 p.m. at the Statehouse.
“She has created havoc in the school systems across the state, she has created havoc in the arts community across the state.” said Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Richland County. “The people in South Carolina deserve better.”
Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey defended the governor's cuts, saying that the Arts Commission was not a core function of the government.
"While the governor loves the arts, she does not believe the Arts Commission, which uses significant taxpayer dollars to fund administrative costs, is a core function of government – and she has been clear about this since her first State of the State address," Godfrey said. "The arts and Arts Commission are not the same thing, and those who represent that they are, are doing the taxpayers of South Carolina a real disservice.”
Lourie added that he thinks the legislature will likely see “strong override votes that way surpass” the necessary two-thirds approval.
Rep. James Smith, D-Richland County, said: “When you see a thriving community, with jobs and economic opportunity, you’ll see a thriving arts community there as well because they go hand-in-hand. For every dollar we invest [in the arts], 50 dollars is generated in economic activity."
He added: “78,000 jobs are related to the arts in this state so why is this governor insisting on killing jobs in South Carolina? This is backwards thinking, it’s the kind of thinking that has held South Carolina back in the past. It must change — it will not stand.”
“I am proud of South Carolina’s culture, I think it’s worth a very small investment that South Carolina makes,” said Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Kershaw County and Haley's opposition in the 2010 gubernatorial race.
“Those small amounts means a lot ... It means arts programs for our schools, it means arts programs for young people, and it means a certain amount of respect that we can project to other business and other states about what South Carolina is all about. We should be able to invest in our own culture and should be able to hold up for the world to see and be proud of."
Haley also vetoed one pot of money for teacher raises.
“This budget includes almost $2.2 billion for public education," Godfrey said. "The governor, who has two children in public schools, vetoed about $10 million of that money – which amounts to around half a percent. To argue that she is against public schools or teachers is, on its face, absurd and shows the lengths to which her political opponents will go to criticize the governor regardless of the facts.”