Politics & Government

Soon-to-be Gov. McMaster mum on gas-tax hike, his successor


Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster was silent Friday on whether he would support an increase to the state’s gas tax and who should succeed him as lieutenant governor.

McMaster will rise to the governor’s office if the U.S. Senate confirms Gov. Nikki Haley to be ambassador to the United Nations.

Who will become lieutenant governor if McMaster ascends to the Governor’s Mansion is unclear.

Historically, the president pro tempore of the Senate rises to lieutenant governor, as state law has said in the past. However, some say a 2014 change to the state Constitution enables McMaster to appoint a lieutenant governor.

"That’s not up to me," McMaster said, adding, "It’s up to the law."

McMaster would not say how he interprets the law.

The Columbia Republican addressed reporters after a meeting with the commanders of S.C. military bases, a gathering normally chaired by the governor. It was the first time McMaster has addressed reporters since news broke that President-elect Donald Trump would nominate Haley, a Lexington Republican who is midway through her second and final term as governor, for the U.N. post.

McMaster was the first statewide elected official nationwide to endorse Trump for the GOP presidential nomination. He also delivered a speech nominating Trump for the GOP nomination at the Republican National Convention in July.

When asked about top issues Friday — funding S.C. schools, including rural schools that sued the state for more money, and the state’s crumbling roads and bridges, McMaster was vague.

“We will make progress – great progress,” he said.

McMaster would not say whether he supports increasing the state’s 16.75-cent-a-gallon gas tax to pay for road repairs. South Carolina’s gas tax is the second lowest in the nation.

On Thursday, the head of the state’s roads commission said McMaster has the opportunity to be an "infrastructure governor."

"Everyone recognizes that our infrastructure, in terms of roads, bridges, highways, are critical to the future," McMaster said.

Ed McMullen, a Columbia businessman who is assisting McMaster in his transition to the governor's office after also working on Trump's transition, said the goal is for a “seamless transition between Gov. Haley and Gov. McMaster.”

"This is a very different transition (than Trump's)," McMullen said Thursday, adding he expects there to be less turnover in the state's executive agencies than in Washington, where Trump has to appoint some 4,000 officials.

"He will fulfill his constitutional role with a very qualified team,” McMullen said of McMaster. “This is very different than if it had been after an election.

"We'll meet on setting a time line over the next couple days. ... We're trying to make sure we have a seamless transition between Gov. Haley and Gov. McMaster."

Bristow Marchant contributed. Cassie Cope: 803-771-8657, @cassielcope

Senator threatens lawsuit over who will be next lieutenant governor

Legislative leaders need to clarify the intent of a 2014 constitutional amendment, a Lowcountry state senator says.

State Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, says a 2014 constitutional amendment, passed by S.C. voters, does not allow the governor to pick the state’s second in command until the 2018 general election. Until then, the Senate president pro tempore becomes lieutenant governor if that post becomes vacant.

Senate President Pro Tem Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, has said he will remain in the Senate rather than be elevated to lieutenant governor, a largely powerless post.

Ratification language for the amendment, approved by lawmakers, omitted the 2018 date. As a result, some argue the 2014 constitutional change allows the new governor to pick the lieutenant governor if a vacancy occurs now, rather than elevate the Senate leader.

Davis is urging legislative leaders to pass a clarification. If that doesn’t happen, Davis says he will file suit before the S.C. Supreme Court.

Davis wants the court either to add the phrase “beginning with the general election of 2018” to the state Constitution or to declare void the ratification of the constitutional amendment.