Nikki Haley to be sworn-in as SC governor

Nikki Haley being sworn-in as SC governor means several firsts for South Carolina. But for the Nikki Haley inaugural organizers, Mother Nature has added her own, unexpected twist.

Alex Brandon/AP/File
In this Dec. 1, 2010 file photo, South Carolina Gov.-elect Nikki Haley speaks to the media on Capitol Hill in Washington.

The swearing-in of Gov.-elect Nikki Haley means several firsts for South Carolina, but for inaugural organizers, Mother Nature has added her own, unexpected twist.

A wintry mix that blanketed the state Monday forced Haley's transition and inaugural teams to reschedule her pre-inaugural family friendly event, initially planned for Tuesday night, and created a lot of work for set-up crews of the outdoor ceremony.

Workers spent Tuesday shoveling snow from Statehouse walkways and the ceremony stage into pickup trucks, and clearing chairs put in place Sunday of layers of snow and ice. The tedious, hours-long task involved picking up each chair, flinging off the melting snow, scraping off icicles and wiping each down with rags that constantly needed wringing.

It was a first in the 11-year history of contractor Palmetto Party Rentals, which has outfitted previous inaugurals, said its operations director Jim Huffman. Seating for 3,000 was pared down to 1,600, he said.

"We don't get many snowfalls in South Carolina," he said.

His crew was expected to be back out Wednesday morning, several hours before the swearing-in ceremony, which was set to begin at 11 a.m.

Wednesday will also bring a return to Columbia for legislators who didn't make it for the first day of session, due to icy roadways, and more formal attire. Many who did make it Tuesday came in jeans, sweaters or other casual wear.

Still, temperatures expected to hover at freezing were bound to affect wardrobes for the outdoor ceremony.

"Like those who are coming to take part in a historic celebration from across our state, the governor-elect and her family have made some last minute adjustments in what they planned to wear Wednesday to account for winter weather," her spokesman, Rob Godfrey, said without giving specifics.

Haley, South Carolina's 90th governor, will be the state's first female and first minority in the job, and the nation's second Indian-American chief executive of a state.

The 38-year-old Republican mother of two enters office as the GOP controls the House, Senate and all nine constitutional offices for the first time.

Other inaugural events include an open house at the governor's mansion Wednesday afternoon, before a formal, $250-per-couple evening gala at Colonial Life Arena.

Haley comes into office with the state facing a gaping $829 million shortfall in the upcoming budget. She knows pain is ahead for people and the programs they depend on and she's expected to talk about that in her inaugural address.

In November, she appointed a fiscal crisis task force to come up with plans to reduce state spending for what she called the worst budget year the state has ever seen.

"No one has ever said this isn't going to hurt. This is going to hurt," she said at the time. "I think we have to be realistic with the people of South Carolina: this is gonna hurt."

The pain is likely to be felt by most South Carolinians with children in school or colleges or those who use Medicaid programs that care for the elderly, disabled and poor. Those programs account for a more than two-thirds of state spending and can't be spared deep cuts without shutting down other state agencies, state budget writers say.

Her job vaults her into an immediate budget problem.

The state's Medicaid agency, the Department of Health and Human Services, will stop payments in February for adult dental, vision and hospice services and slash home health visits by a third for the state's elderly and disabled. And the financial oversight board Haley will now chair will have to decide whether to allow the agency to run a $228 million deficit for the current fiscal year. If that doesn't happen, the agency says it will shut off Medicaid payments to all care providers in March.

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