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SC Senate votes against legislative pay raise

COLUMBIA — South Carolina senators voted Wednesday against giving themselves a pay raise, but restored the bulk of Gov. Nikki Haley’s other budget cuts.

The Senate voted 10-32, without debate, to uphold Haley’s veto against a $12,000 annual increase in legislators’ stipend. It was among just seven vetoes the Senate sustained, tallying less than $1.3 million. That added to the $1.4 million in cuts upheld Tuesday by the House.

In all, the Legislature upheld 22 of Haley’s 76 vetoes. Thirteen of those items designated no money. A two-thirds majority is needed in both the House and Senate to override a veto.

The $7 billion spending plan for state taxes takes effect July 1.

The Senate voted 39-4 to restore $2 million to the lieutenant governor’s Office on Aging. Haley contends the agency is growing too fast.

But former Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell said programs that help elderly residents live independently in their homes save taxpayers money, while giving seniors a better quality of life, because Medicaid-paid nursing beds are 40 times more expensive. The $2 million would serve 4,000 families.

“I don’t know of anyone, given a choice, who would not stay at home rather than going into a facility,” said Sen. Thomas Alexander, R-Walhalla.

The budget had allowed legislators, unless they opted out, to get an additional $1,000 monthly for in-district expenses, doubling the stipend that hasn’t changed since 1995 to $24,000 yearly. In vetoing that, Haley suggested legislators ask voters whether they should get a pay increase.

Senate Finance Chairman Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, has argued that the cost of gas has more than tripled since legislators last received a pay raise, making it more expensive to travel around districts than can span multiple counties. But Leatherman, the Senate’s newly elected leader, did not advocate for the raise Wednesday, though he was one of the 10 voting to override. Realizing the motion was about to fail, several senators switched their votes during the roll call.

Senators also agreed with Haley in cutting $500,000 in recurring money to promote tourism in rural areas. They initially agreed to also cut $500,000 in one-time money for the program — to eliminate all of its funding — but later changed their minds and tossed out that veto. The remaining half will create a one-year, grant-awarding program through the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, dubbed “Undiscovered South Carolina.”

Haley argued the budget needs to take care of existing state parks and welcome centers, not increase spending through “yet another grant program.”

Sen. Paul Cambell, R-Goose Creek, asked his colleagues to help rural counties.

“It’s promoting destinations that lack the resources to create exposure,” he said. “Our rural folks need help in developing their locations.”

In 2008, legislators eliminated a grant program that former Gov. Mark Sanford dubbed a legislative slush fund. He railed against it for its spending on local festivals and tourism projects.

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