Politics & Government

May 4, 2010

GOP hopefuls oppose cigarette tax hike, favor immigration overhaul

All four Republicans who want to be South Carolina's next governor say they would veto a bill to raise the state's lowest-in-the-nation cigarette tax and would welcome an Arizona-style immigration reform bill that aims to deport illegal immigrants.

Monday, the four Republicans seeking the GOP gubernatorial nomination in June's primary faced off during a live debate that aired statewide on ETV. The three Democratic candidates debated Sunday evening.

All four Republicans were in agreement that comprehensive tax reform is needed. Thus, none of them would sign a bill that raised the state's cigarette tax without a comprehensive review of the entire tax code.

"I believe the impulse we have to raise taxes to solve all problems is not the right answer," said state Attorney General Henry McMaster who, like the other three contenders, stressed the need for taxes that are flatter.

Still, three of the four candidates said they support outright the elimination of the corporate income tax - McMaster, Rep. Nikki Haley, R-Lexington and Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer.

"If we really want to change the way that South Carolina is perceived, that would be the number one vehicle," Bauer said. "Businesses would flock here. They'd come here solely based on the (elimination of the corporate) income tax."

U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett, an Oconee County Republican, said a review of all taxes would be needed to determine the best way to attract industry to the state.

All four candidates also said they support drilling off of the Palmetto State's coast as long as caution is taken.

"We have to be sensitive to what's happening off the (Louisiana) coast and apply it to South Carolina," Barrett said, referring to the massive BP oil slick that's affecting marine life and nearing the Florida Gulf coast.

Haley likened the spill to an airplane crash and said all plane trips are not stopped because of one disaster.

"We need to do everything to make our country (energy) independent," said Haley, who took aim at Barrett's conservative credentials pointing out he voted for the bank bailout bill.

"Leaders have to lead," Barrett responded. "We make the best decisions we can with the information we have at the time."

Haley also criticized Barrett for lending support to a federal value-added tax (VAT) bill which would create a border tax on some imports if the U.S. government couldn't negotiate a way to cut trade imbalances.

After the debate, Barrett's campaign said Barrett does not support a VAT. Instead, they said Barrett supports a safety net measure to offset tariffs that foreign nations impose on American businesses to level the playing field.

Meanwhile, Bauer continued to press for welfare reform. The lieutenant governor has recently garnered headlines for likening free lunch for school children to feeding stray animals and for blaming illegal immigration on "lazy" South Carolinians who won't accept jobs.

"Laziness is not a disability and it's time some politicians stand up," Bauer said during Monday's debate.

He later added, "Government is not the cure all. We are creating a mindset that the government is going to take care of your every need."

All four agreed that illegal immigration is a problem in South Carolina that the state should address similarly to how Arizona recently has.

Signed into law last month, Arizona's law seeks to identify, prosecute and deport illegal immigrants. It has prompted three federal lawsuits thus far and threats of boycotts.

"If Washington won't act, sometimes the states have to," McMaster said.

Haley said she's a cosponsor of a House bill styled after Arizona's law.

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