“This is a three-part package deal,” Haley said. “In order to get my signature on any gas-tax increase, we need to restructure the DOT, and we need to cut our state income tax by 2 percent. If we do all of those things, we will have better roads and a stronger economic engine for our people. That’s a win-win.”
If lawmakers fail to meet her conditions and just raise the state’s gas tax — which hasn’t been raised since the late 1980s and is one of the lowest in the country — Haley reiterated her pledge to veto it.
Her 40-minute speech touched on a variety of issues facing the state in addition to roads — improving education, particularly for students in poor, rural school districts; better staffing for a beleaguered child-protection agency; and reforming ethics in the wake of scandals that forced several powerful legislative leaders to resign.
“You all know exactly where I stand,” Haley said. “Reform our ethics laws, restore the public’s faith in our government. Let’s do it right, and let’s do it now.”
Haley also waded into the brewing battle over a vote to unionize workers at Boeing’s North Charleston plant where the aircraft manufacturer is building the 787 Dreamliner, warning workers that their jobs are at stake.
Her 40-minute speech failed to mention domestic violence, an omission that followed daylong hearings by the Senate Judiciary Committee that advanced a bill to increase penalties and bar batterers from possessing firearms.
Haley’s promised roads plan would bump the gas tax up by 10 cents over the next three years.
It’s a shift in rhetoric for Haley, who in the past said she would veto any gas tax increase. The state stands to generate $34 million per penny. The 10 cents would raise South Carolina’s gas tax to 26.75 cents per gallon, still well below North Carolina’s 37.5 cents and on par with Georgia’s current 26.5 cents.
But Haley said the increase would have to be offset by a reduction in the state income tax from 7 percent to 5 percent. The cut in state taxes would make South Carolina a “massive draw” for jobs and investment in the state, she said.
“And it will put more money in the pockets of every South Carolinian, letting them keep more of what they earn,” Haley said. “It will reward work, savings, and investment – all the things we need to do to make our state stronger and our people more prosperous.”
The final component of the deal calls for the restructuring of DOT, abolishing commissioners elected by legislators to represent specific areas, whom, she said, put their interests ahead of the state’s.
Haley touted a proposal for rural districts she first introduced when she released her executive budget.
She is pushing incentives to help teachers pay off student loans or for aspiring teachers to pay for college. The state also would pay for a graduate degree for those who already have a bachelor’s.
The plan, which would be phased in over the next 10 years, also calls for pay incentives for those who teach in rural districts and will be available for existing teachers as well.
“We want that shining star teaching in Lexington to decide it’s time to take on a new challenge and teach in Denmark,” Haley said. “Because nothing can ignite a child’s desire to learn quite like a great teacher. We need those great teachers going to our rural schools, touching our most at-risk students, and we need them staying there. Now, we’ve given them an added incentive to do just that.”
Haley, who took jabs at the Legislature during her inaugural speech last week, called for immediate ethics reform.
“Many words have been spoken on this issue and much time wasted in these chambers with no result,” Haley said. “I believe I have said all I need to.”
South Carolina continually ranks among the nation’s deadliest for women, but domestic violence was not mentioned by Haley in the State of the State speech.
The House and Senate are chipping away at domestic violence-related bills. On Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed a proposal that would overhaul the state’s criminal domestic violence laws by taking away guns from anyone convicted of a domestic violence charge, and taking away the gun rights of anyone who has had a protective order in a domestic violence case against them.
Haley has been a vocal opponent of unions, and used the State of the State to lash out at the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Union, which is looking to represent workers at Boeing’s North Charleston plant.
She bragged that only 3.7 percent of South Carolinians chose to join a union, adding that the Palmetto State doesn’t want or need unions.
“So every time you hear a Seattle union boss carry on about how he has the best interests of the Boeing workers in Charleston at heart, remember this: if it was up to that same union boss, there would be no Boeing workers in Charleston,” she said. “The truth is the IAM cares about one thing and one thing only — its own power. And the successes of Boeing in South Carolina, and more so, the successes of the nonunion workers who populate its ranks, are a threat to the IAM.”
Haley called for a new worker-training program so that emerging jobs are given to South Carolinians. The program, called Succeed, would be included in the 2016-17 budget, and seeks $15 million to train about 6,000 workers.
“The tens of thousands of new jobs announced in South Carolina don’t mean anything if it’s not our people who are filling them,” she said. “The massive drop in our unemployment rate over the last five years is amazing, but we must recognize there are still thousands out of work.”
Reach Cynthia Roldan at 708-5891.