- Associated Press - Monday, June 12, 2017

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Gov. Henry McMaster says he reluctantly vetoed using $20.5 million in lottery proceeds to buy new school buses in South Carolina on Monday, two of 41 vetoes that targeted what he called lawmakers’ spending tricks and wasteful spending.

The vetoes of more than $56 million in the nearly $8 billion spending plan were the first since McMaster ascended to the governor’s office in January after Gov. Nikki Haley resigned to work in President Donald Trump’s administration.

McMaster said he wants to work out a plan to replace several hundred two-decade old school buses with rear-mounted engines that are expensive to maintain and more prone to catch fire. But he said using lottery money generated by greater sales and unclaimed prizes isn’t the way to do it.

“The lottery money should be used only for scholarships for our young people because that’s what voters were promised 17 years ago,” McMaster said in a taped message released on social media.

State schools Superintendent Molly Spearman said she was deeply disappointed with McMaster’s veto and planned to work with lawmakers to have the money restored to the budget.

“By vetoing funding for the purchase of new school buses, the governor is putting the safety of our students at risk,” Spearman said in a statement. “Our school bus fleet incorporates more than 1,500 buses that are over 20 years old and not only are these old buses twice as expensive to operate and maintain, but they are also experiencing structural and mechanical issues.”

McMaster issued a traditional letter describing his vetoes, but didn’t plan to discuss his vetoes with reporters.

It also isn’t clear when the Legislature will try to find the two-thirds support needed to override the vetoes. Before passing the budget earlier this month, lawmakers suggested they might wait until January if the governor didn’t veto too much.

Other items McMaster vetoed in the budget Monday include:

STATE CONSERVATION BANK

The governor returned nearly $17 million to the state Conservation bank that was removed by the House.

McMaster, a supporter of the agency that sets aside money to help buy and protect land from development in a rapidly growing state, said the House removed the money to shut down the bank before its state mandate expires. The current law authorizes the bank continues until July 2018.

Instead of using the budget, McMaster says lawmakers should debate the bank’s future through regular legislation when they return next January.

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COMMITTEE ON HIGHER EDUCATION

One of McMaster’s vetoes restored power to the state Commission on Higher Education.

The Legislature stripped the agency’s power to review all construction projects at South Carolina’s public universities and colleges, limiting it to just new academic buildings.

McMaster said the agency provides a critical oversight role for taxpayers and must be able to review all construction spending.

South Carolina’s largest universities - Clemson University and the University of South Carolina - had asked to limit the commission’s role.

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UNIDENTIFIABLE PORK

The governor also struck nearly $25 million out of the budget that he said went to “unidentifiable pork” programs.

Officials said lawmakers approve a budget line like “agribusiness development” without details, then individual legislators go back after the budget is approved and tell the agencies getting the money how to spend it.

“I vetoed items vaguely called ‘Medical Contracts’ and ‘Water Quality’ so ambiguous that even our agency directors don’t know how all that money would be spent,” McMaster said in his video.

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ODDS AND ENDS

McMaster rejected $8 million to provide contraceptives for dependents of state employees covered by the state health plan. Lawmakers approved the money so dependents would be treated like employees and spouses and get contraceptives without any additional cost after visiting a doctor. The governor said state health plan administrators didn’t ask for the change and it wasn’t fully funded.

McMaster vetoed a provision he said would allow a single go-kart track in South Carolina to use a go-kart that does not meet standards. He did not name the track or where it was located.

The Department of Health and Environmental Services was given money to hire three new “public information consultants,” McMaster said. He vetoed that proposal, saying the money could be better spent on dam inspections and safety or better technology for the agency.

But the governor didn’t fully understand the proposal, the agency said. Instead, the department wants three computer experts to help move data into a newer system, DHEC spokeswoman Jennifer Read said.

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This story has been corrected to show the governor vetoed $20.5 million for school buses.

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Follow Jeffrey Collins at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP . See his work at https://apnews.com/search/jeffrey%20collins

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