Haley: use extra money to fund S.C. infrastructure needs
COLUMBIA — When the state “money tree” falls this spring, Gov. Nikki Haley wants it to go toward rebuilding the state’s deficient roads and bridges.
Haley, Scott help each other
Gov. Nikki Haley and U.S. Sen.-designate Tim Scott are looking to capitalize on their new alliance.
After Haley on Monday picked Scott to succeed the resigning Jim DeMint, the governor on Tuesday sent a fundraising email soliciting donations to Scott. “We need to help him fight off Harry Reid’s machine and the union-funded Democratic Senatorial Committee that are looking for victories anywhere they can,” Haley wrote.
On Thursday, Scott returned the favor. He sent an email to Haley supporters urging donations to the first-term governor so she can head off Democrats who are “already preparing their smear campaign against the governor in the next election.” As of the last disclosure period, Haley had more than $1 million in her campaign war chest. She is expected to formally launch her 2014 re-election campaign next summer.
Scott in 2014 will seek to keep his Senate seat for the last two years of DeMint’s unexpired term.
By Stephen Largen
In unveiling her proposed $6.3 billion state budget Thursday, Haley used her bully pulpit to push for more than $77 million in additional infrastructure spending when expected additional funds become available.
“In my eyes, I see this as tax relief,” Haley said.
The logic? The governor said her approach will head off growing chatter among lawmakers about raising the state’s 16 cents-per-gallon gas tax, stable since 1987. A gas-tax increase is “not an option,” Haley said.
Haley said it’s also going to become increasingly difficult to recruit companies to the state without road improvements.
The money would come from additional revenue projected to be approved for use in the budget next spring. Over the last eight years, lawmakers have had an average of more than $100 million to use in the final version of the state spending plan compared to the governor.
Haley conceded Thursday that in past years, she has “thrown out generalities” when it comes to how extra money should be spent, including paying down trust funds and debt.
Her infrastructure plan makes this year different, she said.
Haley’s “tax relief” also includes a more traditional approach.
She wants to eliminate the 6 percent individual income tax bracket at a cost of about $26 million to the state general fund. That money also would come from projected additional tax revenue above that approved for use in the budget so far.
Haley’s $6.3 billion budget represents a 3 percent increase in spending from the state general fund, and doesn’t include other money such as federal funds and fines collected by state agencies.
State lawmakers are not bound by the governor’s budget proposals. In many ways, the executive budget in South Carolina is an exercise in priority setting and agenda building more than a reflection of what the state’s spending plan will actually look like.
On the campaign trail in 2010, Haley said she saw lawmakers throw copies of former Gov. Mark Sanford’s budget straight into the trash.
State Rep. Brian White, an Anderson Republican who leads the House’s budget-writing committee, said Thursday that Haley has done a better job than some of her predecessors in making realistic projections. White said he had not yet seen Haley’s new budget.
Other highlights of Haley’s spending plan include:
More money for computer security. Haley would spend $47 million on cybersecurity, using more than $20 million of it to pay off a loan to her Department of Revenue for hacking costs. She also would use $12.4 million for agency computer improvements and another $3 million to pay cybersecurity consultants.
Funding for 18 new state troopers, 25 new parolee supervisors and more safety equipment at state prisons.
A 3 percent salary bump, the only such increase in the executive budget, for officers at maximum-security prisons.
An additional $78.4 million to pay the growing cost of state employees’ health insurance.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Reach Stephen Largen at 864-641-8172 and follow him on Twitter @stephenlargen.