Gov. Nikki Haley vetoed a bill Monday that would send $40 million in aid to South Carolina farmers, saying farmers may complain loudly, but don't need a bailout that isn't being offered to all small businesses.
The veto sets up an override showdown with the House and Senate, which each passed the bill by wide margins. It also angers farmers who said the governor promised she had their backs during much less damaging flooding three years ago.
Haley said last week her heart breaks for farmers wiped out when up to 2 feet of rain fell in 12 hours in October over wide parts of South Carolina.
But the governor said farmers have plenty of options to pay for most of their losses, including crop insurance and a number of other federal programs that can pay for lost yields or to prepare damaged fields for the next planting.
"By any measure the current financial support we give to farmers is extraordinary, but a vocal industry has asked for more taxpayer dollars to bail them out," Haley wrote in her veto message.
The farmers have rallied at the Statehouse saying federal aid was not enough after October's catastrophic floods. The deluge came after several months of drought wiped out another round of crops.
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.
South Carolina Farm Bureau President Harry Ott bristled at Haley using the word "bailout," saying it is "often associated with criminals and corrupt hedge fund managers."
"This is not a bailout. This is not picking winners and losers. This is about helping our farmers stay in business and avoid personal bankruptcy," Ott said in a statement Monday.
South Carolina's elected Agriculture Commissioner agreed, with Hugh Weathers calling for lawmakers to overturn the veto, saying the aid was a desperately needed lifeline and not a bailout.
The governor said tens of thousands of other people in South Carolina have already started recovering with aid from public and private sources and urged the Legislature to not overturn her veto.
The original bill passed the House 95-6 and the Senate 33-3 — majorities well over the two-thirds needed to make the bill law over her objections.
Haley's veto threat was especially painful for farmers like John Pendarvis of Dorchester County. He has had a string of bad luck with the weather, starting back in 2013 when a wet summer left him with little from his corn, cotton and soybeans crops.
Haley came to Pendarvis' farm in August 2013. "You are seeing a farming community in crisis," Haley said back then. "What we are here to do is show we have the backs of our famers."
The October flood wiped out just about everything Pendarvis was growing. Farmers reported nearly $400 million in losses in 2015, compared to $61 million paid in federal crop insurance payments in 2013.
"When she was running for re-election, she promised to help. Now she's backpedaling on me," Pendarvis said.
And Haley's reasoning that farmers shouldn't get help not offered to other small businesses after the flood also didn't sit well with the leader of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce.
"Our small businesses want our farmers, who contribute to the economic health of our state, to recover. They don't begrudge farmers from receiving funds available to them," chamber president Frank Knapp Jr. said.