Legislators override vetoes of South Carolina Conservation Bank funds
Veto saves fund that protects tens of thousands of acres for outdoor activities.
The South Carolina Legislature overrode Gov. Nikki Haley's veto that would have stripped the S.C. Conservation Bank of funds used to purchase and protect lands from future development.
“This is a great victory for any South Carolinian who loves the outdoors,” South Carolina Camo Coalition coordinator Heather Clarkson said. “The lands bought through the Conservation Bank are preserved for our future generations to hunt, fish, hike, paddle and simply enjoy the beauty of the natural world.
“In a swiftly developing state, bills like this show progressive thinking and appreciation for our natural resources.”
Despite her statement to the contrary, Haley’s vetoes would have eliminated all funding for the Conservation Bank, which has protected tens of thousands of acres of critical habitat and natural areas across the state since it was founded nine years ago.
The Conservation Bank is the only state agency charged with buying and protecting undeveloped land.
In her veto message, the first-year governor said she likes the intent of the bank, but “we do not believe providing additional taxpayer dollars for the Conservation Bank is an appropriate use of our limited state dollars, especially when the agency is receiving funding through an established, statutory funding formula.”
Once the vetoes were announced, several major conservation and outdoor organizations sprang into action and called on their members to contact legislators and ask them to override the vetoes.
The Conservation Voters of South Carolina, a lobbying group for environmentalists, said the reality is that there is no funding for the bank other than what Haley vetoed.
In an urgent message to its members, the South Carolina Camo Coalition (an association of several dozen sporting and outdoors organizations) warned that if Haley’s vetoes were sustained that the Conservation Bank would cease to exist.
By law, the bank is set up to receive money from real-estate transfer fees, but that money hasn’t been available the last three years because of state budget cuts. As a result, the legislature has granted one-time appropriations to keep the bank afloat.
This year’s amount was $2.2 million. The new budget included about $2 million for the bank to fulfill grants that it is committed to from past years and $207,000 for operating expenses.
The grass-roots action by conservationists and outdoors enthusiasts worked. The House overrode the veto of operating costs 94-16, and the Senate’s vote was 35-4 to override. The House defeated the veto of $2 million 90-20, and the Senate followed suit 33-5.
South Carolina Wildlife Federation Executive Director Ben Gregg said public pressure was key.
“It was disappointing to see Gov. Haley attempt to put the Conservation Bank out of business but gratifying to see the overwhelming support for the bank in the House and the Senate,” Gregg said. “Hundreds of outdoor enthusiasts contacted their legislators opposing the veto, and their voices carried the day.”
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