Gov. Haley talks vetoes, signs pension reform in Aiken

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley. (File / WRDW-TV)

News 12 at 6 o'clock / Wednesday, July 25, 2012

AIKEN, S.C. -- With Gov. Nikki Haley's ceremonial signature at Newberry Hall in Aiken, pension reform became law in South Carolina.

"This pension reform bill immediately reduces South Carolina's debt by $2 billion. It immediately saves taxpayers $300 million a year," she said.

It was an issue championed by retiring Aiken Sen. Greg Ryberg, R-Aiken.

"Through getting it done, we can now say that we heard back from Moody's, and they said that we have a Credit Plus rating, which is very very strong for our state," Haley said.

State Rep. Bill Hixon, R-North Augusta, says it's a pill the state has to swallow.

"I have lots of friends that are teachers, and I have lots of friends that are policemen, and we did what I thought was the best thing to do," he told News 12.

State employees will now contribute more to pension plans each year. It'll mean that state employees will have to work for 30 years before they collect pensions. For officers and firefighters, they'll need to work 27 years instead of 25 to collect their pensions. It'll also eliminate the Teachers and Employee Retention Incentive program. State employees who retire and get a new job won't be able to collect two checks.

"The system wasn't designed that way. The system was designed for 30 years you retire and you're gone," Hixon said.

Meanwhile, Republican Senate District 26 candidate Deedee Vaughters says she hopes the bill will strengthen next session.

"We have legislators who take their retirement while serving. Retirement is more than their salary, so financially, they're just looking to essentially fleece the taxpayer for their own financial gain," she said, after a rousing speech to the Newberry Hall Aiken Republican Club luncheon.

"All these things need to continue to be revisited and made stronger," Haley said.

Haley also defended and explained some of her controversial vetoes during a speech to the Aiken Republican Club. The legislature overrode 48 of her 81 vetoes.

Haley says, in many cases, the legislature forced her to veto components of the budget.

"What has happened is I'm blessed to be a governor who has a line-item veto, but I've also got a legislature that understands if they bundle items, I can't go in and eliminate any lines. Department of Education is a perfect one. If it's bundled, I can't go and take out certain programs that I don't think work," the governor said.

She went on to explain her most controversial vetoes, one by one. One veto would have stripped millions from rape centers like Aiken's Cumbee Center.

"To say that I don't support rape victims is absurd," she said. "What we vetoed was one organization that was getting one-time money that was going through a special loophole through DHEC. That's what we vetoed."

However, that veto was overridden.

The next would have scrapped the Arts Commission, which essentially dishes out art grants across the state, even in Aiken. But for Haley and Hixon, it's the commission, not the arts, that was vetoed.

Hixon already gave the commission director a stern warning.

"I gave him the shot across the bow, as they say. He's not done anything we asked him to do. I think he's showing his arrogance, and I told him that," he said.

Haley said the Arts Commission has been vetoed before, and they didn't learn. She says it's an 18-man operation in an 18,000 square foot building that's given $1.6 million a year.

The legislature, however, overrode the veto, and the commission survives, but Hixon says next year, they won't be as forgiving.

"I will not vote for it in 2013 if his organization has not been reorganized," Hixon said.

Both Hixon and Haley were disappointed the legislature didn't establish a Department of Administration. It would have scrapped what's called the Budget and Control Board. It's a five-member panel that controls large amounts of money and is allowed to run deficits. Hixon hopes to dump that board next session. He also hopes to address the problem that kicked so many candidates off the ballot this past spring.

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