In a speech full of optimism, S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster urged South Carolinians to “lift our state into an era of prosperity, strength and happiness unlike any we have seen before.”
“Today, we stand at the dawn of a new prosperity,” McMaster said Wednesday in his first State of the State address since taking office a year ago. Then the lieutenant governor, McMaster took over as governor when Nikki Haley resigned to become President Donald Trump’s U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
“In the history of our great country, this is our time,” McMaster said.
With guests and legislators looking on in the S.C. House chamber, McMaster pledged to make priorities of the state’s economy, schools and nuclear woes.
The Columbia Republican, who is seeking a four-year term this year, outlined key spending proposals, included in his executive budget proposal, and touched on campaign promises to cut taxes, and fight illegal immigration and abortion.
There were few surprises in the roughly 45-minute speech, sometimes used by governors to unveil new proposals. (Haley, for example, revealed in her 2015 State of the State address that she would support a gas tax increase with conditions, a move that shocked lawmakers.)
McMaster only had praise for President Trump, a political ally who Monday delivered a blow to S.C. business interests by slapping tariffs on imported solar panels and Samsung, a South Korean appliance manufacturer that has opened a Newberry County plant.
Trump’s tax cuts are “a great victory for American taxpayers and our economy,” McMaster said, touting his own proposal to cut state income taxes by $2.2 billion over five years. McMaster also wants to eliminate state income taxes on the retirement benefits for veterans and first responders.
McMaster did, however, set the stage for another disagreement with Trump — the president’s proposal to expand offshore drilling.
“We cannot stop hurricanes, but we can avoid oil spills,” McMaster said. “We cannot take a chance. We must do whatever it takes to preserve this economic paradise we call ‘the beach, the marsh, the coast and the Lowcountry.’ It is made of gold.”
McMaster also doubled down on his proposal to sell the state-owned Santee Cooper utility, a move that he says is the only way to prevent S.C. power customers from continuing to foot the bill for a failed nuclear project. The utility is the junior partner of Cayce-based SCANA in two partially built, abandoned nuclear reactors in Fairfield County.
“Customers of Santee Cooper and SCANA have already paid billions for this project,” McMaster said. “Now, they face the prospect of also being charged for years in the future for reactors which may never be completed. This cannot happen.”
McMaster told lawmakers to send him a bill that “prevents ratepayers from being charged in the future for the abandoned reactors, and I will sign it. Send me a bill that continues to place the financial burden of this corporate failure on South Carolina ratepayers, and I will veto it.”
Gov. Henry McMaster’s agenda
S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster delivered his first State of the State address Wednesday, outlining his priorities for the state. Some highlights:
On law and order
McMaster said he wants to keep schools safe, calling on lawmakers "to work with me to station a trained police officer in every school, in every county, on every campus, all day, every day."
He also reiterated he wants to prevent S.C. cities and counties from harboring undocumented immigrants: "Prosperity requires law and order. We cannot tolerate lawlessness. That means we must say 'no' to sanctuary cities."
On policing public officials
Amid an ongoing State House corruption probe that has ensnared his longtime political consultant, McMaster said he will push for changes to the law that defines ethical behavior for public officials.
Lawmakers recently changed the law to require public officials to disclose private sources of income, and to end the practice of House and Senate committees investigating ethics complaints against their own members. But McMaster said he will push for more changes.
A former S.C. attorney general and U.S. attorney, McMaster said he wants to end an exemption to the state’s Freedom of Information Act that allows state legislators, exclusively, to keep their papers and emails private. “That destroys public confidence. This exemption must end.”
McMaster also said that anyone paid to influence the decisions of local leaders – from school boards to county councils – should be required to register as a lobbyist and show who is paying them.
McMaster said businesses investing in the state and creating jobs “will do more to improve educational opportunity than simply sending money from Columbia. Yet, students must have the resources to reach their full potential."
For higher education, McMaster touted his workforce development proposals, including $5 million to help technical schools and public schools form partnerships in rural communities.
For traditional K-12 public schools, McMaster said he is proposing a significant investment, but the money falls far short of what a state law recommends. McMaster's $25 million increase would raise per-pupil spending — money the state sends to school districts for each enrolled student — by only $10. State law says that spending should be about $580 a student more than McMaster proposes.