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The Governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley, has come under serious fire from the arts community this past week after news broke that she had vetoed over $67.5 million worth of state budget items including around $2 million that was supposed to make up the entire budget of the South Carolina Arts Commission. As a result, the Arts Commission has been completely defunded and will cease to exist if they cannot find alternative sources of funding. The loss of funding makes South Carolina the only state in the U.S without its own arts commission.
Almost immediately after Governor Haley’s announcement there was scathing backlash, especially from the arts community. Many were left wondering what Haley’s justification was for classifying the arts commission as a “charity” that did not deserve government funding and her cuts of funding for the prevention of sexual assault and domestic violence, and cuts to teacher pay-raises, amongst others. The battle lines have been drawn most noticeably online with numerous blogs and op-ed pieces examining the situation (including this comprehensive call to arms posted on the Arts Action Fund blog a few days ago). Less than a week after her announcement, Nikki Haley is explaining her actions, although whether these explanations will prove to be satisfying is dependent on the reaction of those same intrepid bloggers and citizens that questioned her motives in the first place.
In justifying her actions, Governor Haley wrote in the budget document “Supporting the arts and supporting the Arts Commission are not the same thing. The Arts Commission’s administrative costs are significant—in fact a full 30 percent of the funds allocated to the Commission in part IA are dedicated to administration, personnel and operating expenses. Who would donate to a charity that spent that much on overhead? Instead of taking a command –and-control role to promoting the arts, we would be better off returning these funds to the public to let them decide for themselves which artistic endeavors deserve financial support.” The Arts Commission has challenged Governor Haley’s figures, and they attest that, if they had been contacted prior to the budget review, they would have been able to provide the Governor with more comprehensive figures.
In making a formal statement responding to the public’s reaction at a press conference on July 6th, Governor Haley shifted blame to the legislature, saying that the veto process put in place by them is an all or nothing system with no room for compromise. She also voiced her suspicions that the legislature had padded the budget with “pet projects” in an effort to stymie significant legislation. “It’s embarrassing for them,” she said, before listing off several of the legislature’s funding choices including the preservation of many African American heritage sites and a pavilion dedicated to veterans.
Noticeably absent from the discussion was the subject of the Arts Commission. Governor Haley instead focused on reassuring tax payers that she was running an office where “What you think, and what you feel, matters.”