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Senate budget: Ban junk food at Governor’s Mansion

By ADAM BEAM
abeam@thestate.com

State-purchased junk food would be banned from the Governor’s Mansion under the state Senate budget proposal adopted Friday.

The budget proviso is a response to Gov. Nikki Haley’s efforts to restrict the types of food that low-income South Carolinians can buy using food stamps, officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Haley has said her goal is to combat obesity by preventing the use of food stamps to buy “candy and chocolate, sodas and chips,” as the Republican governor put it during a February news conference.

State Sen. Darrell Jackson, D-Richland, said that’s fine – if Haley follows the same rules.

“I get really tired of the hypocrisy, OK?” Jackson said. “Here’s what I said to the governor’s staff who (Thursday) night rushed over ... to beg me to take this off: ‘If this is good enough for poor kids and poor families, then why can’t it be good enough for the employees of the governor’s office?’ ”

“No one on our staff ‘begged’ Sen. Jackson for anything,” a Haley spokesman said Friday. “We simply questioned his motives, which are, frankly, quite questionable.”

The proviso would bar using state money to buy food for the Governor’s Mansion – for family dining or entertaining – that could not be purchased with food stamps under Haley’s proposal. It would not prevent the governor from using her own money to buy soda.

The governor’s proposed restrictions only would go into effect if the federal government grants the state a waiver to the food-stamp program. At least 10 other state and local governments have asked for food-stamp waivers recently, and all have been denied.

While the Senate Finance Committee approved the budget proviso, it is far from becoming law. The Senate must approve the budget and, then send it back to the House, which has adopted its own budget proposal. House and Senate negotiators then will meet to work out spending differences before sending a budget to Haley for her signature or veto. At any point, the proviso could be deleted.

Democrats have used budget provisos – temporary laws that expire after a year – to attack Haley before. Last year, after Haley sought to ban state agencies from lobbying the Legislature, then-state Rep. Boyd Brown, D-Fairfield, inserted a proviso to ban the governor from lobbying. That proviso did not make it into the state budget.

“The governor is trying to tackle the obesity epidemic in South Carolina,” Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey said. “If state Sen. Jackson wants to play games with it, that’s his business. But we’re going to keep fighting to help South Carolinians get healthy.”

Jackson said he was just tired of hypocrisy.

“If (the governor) will withdraw the waiver, then I will take down the proviso,” Jackson said. “Then, it’s not hypocrisy.”

Reach Beam at (803) 386-7038.
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