South Carolina gov: Tax cuts boosting state's prosperity
By MEG KINNARD
Jan. 25, 2018
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — One year to the date of being sworn in as governor, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster told a joint assembly of lawmakers Wednesday that the state is at the "dawn of a new prosperity," thanks to tax cut proposals at the state and federal levels.
"The recent tax reform bill signed by President Trump was a great victory for American taxpayers and our economy," McMaster said in his first State of the State address. "Companies have already begun announcing reinvestment and raises for employees."
But with the federal government cutting taxes, McMaster said, it becomes incumbent on states to "do our part." The governor also touted his own executive budget proposal, which calls for cutting $2.2 billion cumulatively in taxes over the next five years.
State officials have said that the plan would ultimately reduce state revenue by more than $750 million a year.
McMaster's first State of the State address came on the one-year anniversary of his swearing in to replace Nikki Haley. Trump has endorsed his bid for a first full term, and McMaster faces several Republican opponents.
Here are a few of the issues the governor addressed:
McMaster addressed the multibillion-dollar debacle related to the decision to abandon the construction of two new reactors at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station, saying the state's viability as an economic force "requires an abundant supply of clean and affordable energy."
SCANA Corp. and state-owned utility Santee Cooper nixed the project last summer following the bankruptcy of lead contractor Westinghouse. State and federal authorities have been probing the failure, which resulted in thousands of job losses.
"We must carefully assess our situation," said McMaster, who has long said the state needs to sell Santee Cooper. "We must construct the best possible solution. The customers must either get the reactors or get their money back."
SCANA ratepayers have already shouldered $2 billion of the company's loan debt on the project. Dominion Energy has proposed $1.3 billion in givebacks as part of its proposal to buy SCANA, and legislation moving through the state House would stop the company from continuing to charge customers further.
The House is debating several bills on reforming utilities and dealing with the abandoned plants.
CELLPHONES IN PRISON
McMaster also called on state lawmakers to help combat contraband cellphones in the hands of state inmates. State and federal prison authorities across the country have called the phones the No. 1 security threat behind bars.
Corrections Director Bryan Stirling has become a national leader on the issue, which McMaster said has "revolutionized criminal activity," allowing inmates and their conspirators to "practice extortion, conduct blackmail, plan and execute 'hits,' operate drug rings and run any number of fraud schemes."
Until federal officials allow prison officials to jam cell signals, an idea Stirling and McMaster support, the governor said, states "must we must take every action, try every idea and implement any law which will stop these criminals."
McMaster said his budget for the opioid epidemic includes more than $10 million for treatment and prevention, calling that a "crisis born of human pain and suffering."
Over the past three years, McMaster said, South Carolina had more opioid-related deaths than homicides and drunken driving deaths combined.
"We must take a bold new approach to this unprecedented threat," he said.
FREEDOM OF INFORMATION
McMaster also used his first joint legislative address to call on lawmakers to end a policy exempting themselves from state open records laws. In 2013, McMaster co-chaired an ethics panel that proposed doing away with a legislative FOIA exemption, but lawmakers have failed to adopt the suggestion.
"That destroys public confidence," McMaster said. "This exemption must end."
In his party's response, Rep. James Smith said Democrats are ready to work with Republicans on restoring the public's trust in its leaders following a corruption probe that has ensnared half a dozen current and former lawmakers.
"I believe that the people of our state are tired of the partisan trench warfare," said Smith, who is seeking the Democratic nomination to challenge McMaster. "In the end, South Carolina cannot succeed if we are willing to leave some behind."
In his address, McMaster said he opposed the Trump administration's proposal to expand drilling off the coast of states including South Carolina, saying any mistake could damage the state's "pristine" coastline and heart of its $20 billion tourism industry. McMaster has asked the Trump administration for a waiver from that proposal, following in the footsteps of Florida Gov. Rick Scott, to whom one has been granted.
"Dammit Henry it takes you calling your buddies Trump and Sanford and ask them to give u the same pass they gave Florida," state Democratic Party Chairman Trav Robertson posted on Twitter, referencing drilling opponent and Republican U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford.
Kinnard is adding issues related to South Carolina's Legislature and state government to her beat coverage this year. Reach her at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP, and read more of her work at https://apnews.com/search/meg%20kinnard.