Late last week, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley vetoed eighty-one items in the 2012–13 state budget sent to her by lawmakers. Beyond eliminating the state’s arts commission, she also managed to cut $453,680 in funding for the South Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault (SCCADVASA). If her veto isn’t overridden, “rape crisis centers will lose 37% of their current state funding, which will drastically reduce their ability to respond to victims and provide prevention education,” SCCADVASA’s Executive Director Pamela Jacobs told the Palmetto Public Record.
South Carolina was already failing women when it comes to preventing violence against them. Its rape rate has exceeded the national rate since 1982. It also holds the extremely dubious honor of being number seven in the country for the number of women murdered by men.
But the situation is even more urgent right now. The recession has led to a drastic and alarming increase in violence against women. As I wrote last year, 80 percent of domestic violence shelters surveyed by Mary Kay reported an increase in domestic violence cases for the third straight year, and three-quarters attributed the violence to the victims’ financial issues. More than half say the abuse is even more violent than it was before the financial crisis. The Police Executive Research Forum also reports that over half of police agencies are seeing an increase in domestic violence calls this year due to the economy. This all lines up with studies showing that domestic violence is three times more likely to occur when a couple experiences financial strain, as so many are right now.
What’s going on in South Carolina is happening around the country: three-quarters of shelters nationally report losing money from government sources since the recession began. As states look at tight budgets, the ax has been falling on these services even in the face of a hugely increased need.
And many state budgets do in fact remain crunched. But they have a range of choices in how they deal with the problem—and while some are slashing services, others are raising taxes and trying to invest instead. The New York Times reported this week on two test cases: Maryland and Kansas. The former, controlled by Democrats, raised income taxes on top earners to preserve services and spending on schools. On the other hand, writes reporter Michael Cooper, “Kansas, controlled by Republicans, decided to try to spur its economy with an income tax cut—which Moody’s Investors Service, the ratings agency, recently warned would lead to ‘dramatic revenue loss’ and deficits that would probably require more spending cuts in the coming years.”
It seems Haley plans to follow in Kansas’s footsteps. Beyond cutting the money for domestic violence and sexual assault, she also cut over $10 million of non-recurring funds to help school districts pay teacher salaries. While she said she doesn’t want to “mak[e] a promise about next year’s budget that we can be certain we’ll be able to keep,” and therefore didn’t want to spend one-time money, it was meant to catch teachers up on two years’ worth of missed pay. The states that decide to slash spending will inevitably put the pain on public workers like teachers (and cops and firefighters). But that’s almost literally shooting ourselves in the economic foot. Josh Bivens and Heidi Shierholz crunched the numbers and found that public sector job cuts have led to 2.3 million jobs “missing” from the economy. That hurts everyone—Republican-controlled states like South Carolina included.
Republican governors who choose to cut services risk harming those who are already in desperate need of help. They also risk keeping the national economy in a state of painful stagnation.