WASHINGTON — While most other governors huddle with their counterparts in Washington this weekend regardless of party affiliation, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley planned to meet only with Republican state executives.
Haley is skipping the winter meeting of the bipartisan National Governors Association because of her decision not to pay $100,000 for South Carolina's annual dues to the main policy and lobbying group for the 50 state chiefs.
"South Carolina is facing a tough budget year," Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey said. "The governor simply doesn't believe that in a time when we're focused on returning government to its core functions, we should spend more than $100,000 on NGA dues."
Haley will meet with the other 28 GOP state heads in concurrent sessions of the Republican Governors Association, a partisan group previously led by former Gov. Mark Sanford and whose members use campaign funds and other private contributions to finance its activities.
"The RGA is covering the costs of the governor's lodging," Godfrey said. "A donor has been generous enough to provide transportation, which we will disclose via the governor's voluntary plane log."
The Democratic Governors Association will also hold partisan meetings over the weekend to take advantage of the NGA gathering.
Haley's only contact with Democratic governors will come Sunday evening at a White House black-tie ball hosted by President Barack Obama, which she planned to attend with her husband, Michael.
White House aides said Obama, like his predecessors, is hosting the gala to coincide with the NGA conference, and the organization spotlighted the bash in a news release about the weekend meeting.
Haley becomes the third governor to snub the NGA, after Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, both Republicans.
"The cost isn't worth it when he can pick up the phone and call other governors to discuss common concerns or issues," Perry spokeswoman Katherine Cesinger said.
Haley's decision means she will miss a White House meeting Monday at which Obama wants to exchange views with the governors.
That means there will be no reprise of her showdown with Obama in December, when she confronted the president over the health-insurance law he'd championed.
At a White House meeting with governors-elect from across the country, Obama rejected Haley's request to repeal the law but said he might consider allowing states to opt out of at least some of its provisions.
Obama is meeting separately Friday with most of the country's 18 fellow Democratic governors, with North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue one of four featured speakers at a session focused on creating jobs.
Haley has also left the Southern Governors Association, which focuses on more regional issues, saving South Carolina about $40,000 in annual dues.
Haley's exit from the NGA represents a break from Sanford, who regularly vetoed budget line items with price tags lower than the NGA annual dues.
For all his penny-pinching ways, Sanford headed NGA policy panels and viewed the organization as a useful group that represented states' interests to members of Congress and provided governors in-depth research and other assistance.
"Governor Haley has found some of the best policy minds in the country to help her tackle the tough issues facing our state, and she will continue to rely on their advice and support," Godfrey said.
"In this kind of budget year, with the cuts we're facing, we just aren't going to spend tax dollars on the NGA, and if that means forgoing some of their services, so be it," he said.
South Carolina confronts an estimated $700 million state government deficit for the budget year that starts on July 1.
Nearly every other state faces budget shortfalls because of lingering economic woes and the end of federal stimulus funding.
North Carolina faces a projected $3.8 billion deficit for the next budget year, but Perdue is attending the NGA winter conference after paying the state's dues of about $160,000.
"Governor Perdue believes the NGA serves as a valuable resource, allowing governors and their staffs to share and learn from each other's experiences," said Perdue spokesman Mark Johnson.
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, a newly elected Republican, isn't going to Washington at all this weekend so he can work with legislators on his proposed overhaul of a popular lottery-funded college scholarship program.
Despite Georgia's estimated budget shortfall of $1.8 billion, Deal hasn't ended the state's NGA membership with its $250,000 in annual dues.
Jodi Omear, an NGA spokeswoman, said "almost all" of the governors of the 50 states and five commonwealths or territories were "members in good standings" and had paid a $495 registration fee to attend the group's winter session.