COLUMBIA, SC — South Carolina Democrats criticized Republican Gov. Nikki Haley for pledging to use a “money tree” to help cover South Carolina’s $29 billion shortfall in road repairs during her State of the State address Wednesday.
Haley unveiled her budget proposal last week. But if history holds, by May the amount of money the state has to spend in its fiscal year that starts July 1 will grow by about $106 million as state economists update their budget forecasts. Haley said lawmakers should plan to use that extra money – which does not technically exist yet – to pay for road repairs.
“The road to a peaceful and prosperous South Carolina must be paved. And what did the governor offer tonight? A money tree,” said state Rep. James Smith, D-Richland, who delivered the official Democratic response to Haley’s speech. “That’s not a plan. When I was 5 years old, my parents told me money doesn’t grow on trees.”
State Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Kershaw, the likely Democratic nominee for governor in November, called Haley’s road plan “a magical, make-believe ‘money tree.’ ”
“That’s not the leadership South Carolinians deserve,” Sheheen said. “South Carolinians deserve a government that works and works for them.”
In her speech, Haley noted lawmakers chose to use extra revenue, projected late in the legislative session, on roads last year, and it worked. Lawmakers gave the Department of Transportation $50 million in one-time money, money the department used to get federal money to repair 90 bridges in 33 counties.
“According to the Department of Transportation, those dollars, invested the right way, will be worth more than 1.3 billion in additional road and bridge improvements,” Haley said in her speech. “That is prioritizing. That is our job.”
Smith and Sheheen waited until after Haley finished her roughly 40-minute speech before delivering their critique. Other Democrats, including state Rep. John King of York County, did not make it through the speech.
King walked out of the House chamber shortly after Haley pledged she would “continue to fight Obamacare every step of the way.”
“Gov. Haley is full of it. People in this state are suffering. I’m just fed up with the games, and we need to face reality. It’s racism in this state, pure racism, and the only reason they have a problem with the Affordable Care Act ... is because we have a black president who has promoted assistance for all people,” said King, who is African-American. “It bothers me as a funeral director to see people who could have still been alive if they had insurance.”
It’s not the first time King has used strong language to denounce Haley. In 2011, he sent the governor a letter that compared her to Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini, according to The Associated Press.
“This is a legislator who ... sent her a letter quoting Abraham Lincoln’s assassin,” said Haley campaign spokesman Rob Godfrey said. “His rants are old news. We are focused on what’s next for South Carolina.”
Other Democrats focused more on what Haley did not say in her speech:
• No mention of expanding the state’s 4-year-old kindergarten plan, which Sheheen has proposed and Senate Democrats have made a top legislative priority
• No mention of the 2012 hacking at the state Department of Revenue that exposed the personal information of 6.4 million consumers
• No mention of the Pinewood landfill and the $400 million in taxpayer money it could take to clean up its 2.2 million tons of toxic waste buried near a third of the state’s supply of drinking water
“That’s why Governor Haley earned a ‘D’ on (the Conservation Voters of South Carolina) Governor’s Report Card,” said Shawn Drury, field director for the Conservation Voters.
For all of their attacks, Haley did take time in her speech to thank one Democrat: Sheheen, her likely Democratic opponent in November.
Haley singled him out for sponsoring the Department of Administration bill, which Haley has been pushing throughout her three years as governor.
Reporter Jamie Self contributed.