COLUMBIA — With dozens of farmers in the lobby and lawmakers cheering every speech, the South Carolina House on Tuesday voted to override Gov. Nikki Haley’s veto of a bill offering $40 million in state aid to farmers who lost their crops in last year’s massive floods.
The 112-2 vote in the Republican-dominated House was a sharp rebuke of a rare veto by their GOP colleague and well beyond the two-thirds needed to send the veto on to the Senate. With a two-thirds vote in that chamber — which passed the bill originally 33-3 — the proposal becomes law.
More than a dozen House members spoke Tuesday, thanking farmers for their hard work in tough times.
Haley’s veto had stunned the farmers. Many voted for the governor twice. And they remember her saying more than once after earlier disasters that South Carolina was going to demonstrate that the state had the backs of its farmers .
“It broke my heart,” Williamsburg County farmer Brian McClam said of Haley’s veto.
McClam lost $800,000 in 2015. The first blow came just before the October flood when drought withered his cotton, corn, soybeans, peanuts and peas. Then came 24 1/2 inches of rain in three days. It took months for the water to finally drain from much of his 3,000 acres.
“I cannot understand how a governor who runs a whole state doesn’t understand how agriculture drives this state,” McClam said.
In her veto message Monday, Haley said it wasn’t fair for farmers to get help that wasn’t available to all small businesses. She said farmers have crop insurance and federal aid to cover their losses.
“The governor got poor advice,” said Republican state Agriculture Secretary Hugh Weathers, who said all of the aid isn’t near enough to help farmers who are on the hook for all the money lost from 2015 crops and for the money needed to get 2016 crops in the ground, all the while looking at lower market prices for what they do grow.
The $40 million proposal would allow farmers in disaster-declared counties to apply for grants of up to $100,000 each, covering no more than 20 percent of their total loss. A board will award the grants, and Weathers said if the Senate overrides the veto this week, that board could be picked by the end of the month.
South Carolina Farm Bureau President Harry Ott and over 100 farmers were at the Statehouse Tuesday encouraging House members to support the bill.
“We are very happy with the vote in the House and look forward to talking to the senators tomorrow for the same outcome,” Ott said.
Ott said the group did not take the vote for granted.
“We have active grassroots organizations making phone calls to the senators as we speak,” he said. Farmers also plan to visit on Wednesday to speak to senators.
Ott said if the Senate overrides the veto, he is hoping the money will begin to flow to farmers within the next 30 to 45 days.
Haley took a more conciliatory tone after Tuesday’s vote.
“There were no winners during last year’s 1,000 year flood, and we will continue doing our best to help all of our industries and property owners — fairly — through the recovery process,” she said in a statement.
House Ways and Means Chairman Brian White was stunned the governor picked a fight over $40 million, saying the state routinely sends that kind of help to out-of-state corporations such as Volvo, which have or are building plants in South Carolina.
“The interest payments alone on those bond payments are more than we are talking about to help farmers already in South Carolina,” said White, R-Anderson.
The farm bill was a rare second-term veto for Haley, who outside the budget has only rejected two other bills since her re-election in November 2014. And her fellow Republicans weren’t shy about saying they were holding her accountable with their vote.
“The day after the flood, the governor stood on the steps with her Cabinet and said we’re going to help every citizen in South Carolina. She didn’t help you,” said Rep. David Hiott, R-Pickens. “We’re here today to honor that commitment to you.”