SC Technical Schools, ETV, Surviving Budget Vetoes

Children's immunizations, technical colleges, and forest firefighters were among items spared the budget ax Wednesday as South Carolina legislators considered 107 vetoes.

The nearly $5 billion state spending plan that takes effect July 1 is already $2 billion less than it was two years ago.

"We hear all kinds of comments about we're 'not conservative enough,' but all we've done is cut spending," said Rep. B.R. Skelton, R-Six Mile. "Everybody is suffering, and we need to carefully consider what we're doing."

Legislators nearly unanimously overrode vetoes to cut $4 million from the state's technical colleges. Some lawmakers said it was madness to eliminate money to run the schools that businesses rely on and that are vital as jobless workers seek training.

In his veto message, Sanford said he wanted to force the technical schools to consolidate administration, but legislators argued the savings are uncertain, and schools would lose local control.

"Don't eliminate technical education in this state," said Rep. Ken Kennedy, D-Greeleyville. "This whole thing doesn't make any sense!"

The House saved $4.5 million Sanford wanted cut from the Department of Health and Environmental Control that would have decimated the agency's operations, laying off 179 workers from basic operations. It also saved the agency $3.2 million that could have ended various health programs, including childhood immunizations, restaurant and septic tank inspections, rabies and tuberculosis control, and AIDS drug assistance.

Rep. Alan Clemmons, R-Myrtle Beach, successfully argued to spare the Forestry Commission, already down by 100 employees. A $1.1 million cut that would have laid off 30 additional workers and cut basics like fuel and insurance. He said he feared if a fire similar to last year's North Myrtle Beach wildfire, which destroyed 76 homes and charred 31 square miles, happened after the cuts, the destruction would be much worse.

"We've got to give our firefighters everything they need to protect us," said Rep. David Hiott, R-Pickens.

Other items spared included $5 million for ETV, the state's educational television and radio network to pay for basics like buildings and electricity, $5 million for public libraries that could have resulted in libraries ending Internet access or shuttering, and $1.6 million to keep open the State Museum.

Sanford suggested the museum increase its fees, but legislators said that would require raising ticket costs from $5 to $25 per person, preventing 75,000 school children from across the state, who now attend for free, from making the visit.

"This is our history. This is brick and mortar, and artifacts," said Rep. Joan Brady, R-Columbia. "We can't just close it down for a year or two. We would not even be able to pay the rent."

Tensions flared after legislators overrode vetoes to save Clemson University agricultural programs that include livestock disease inspections, but upheld a veto of an economic development program through South Carolina State University, the state's historically black public college. Black legislators said they were baffled and concerned by the difference in the votes.

House Minority Leader Harry Ott, D-St. Matthews, and other legislators of both parties successfully argued for a re-do of the vote, which was then overridden.

Source: businessweek