Haley should downshift divisive rhetoric

Gov. Nikki Haley is one great saleswoman!

The Volvo project is her good work, a victory over worthy competitors, and more importantly, an affirmation that the automotive manufacturing sector has planted taproots in South Carolina.

But Gov. Haley might want to consider a bit more self-possession in her post-victory laps.

During a Volvo dealers event last week at Charles Towne Landing, she declared she was “overwhelmed” by Volvo’s new luxury SUV with all its technology and luxury features. “When I am able to drive again, this is my next new car,” Haley said.

Really, governor?

What about one of those super-duper BMW products manufactured in Greer? They’re world class, too. My neighbor has a new BMW sports sedan and loves it. Last week, it sent him an electronic message that his headlights needed cleaning.

The governor might consider buying one of each — and make sure that the tires fairly represent the five global companies now manufacturing tires in South Carolina.

But Haley’s larger challenge is more complicated, and it deposits the Volvo project directly into the currents of the governor’s dogmatic ideological political practices, and her fearless personal political tactics.

The salesmanship governor and Bobby Hitt, her able secretary of commerce, made the Volvo deal pretty much by themselves.

But executing that deal now leads back to the Legislature — and sooner than later, to the desk of Senate Finance Committee Chairman and President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence. It’s no secret that the relationship between the most powerful woman and man in the state is testy. The governor has been the fearless political bull carrying her own china closet, calling out legislators who disagree with her taut right wing positions on issues like state borrowing limits and ethics legislation.

Her hit list includes Sen. Leatherman. Last March, she took direct and personal shots at him when she addressed 500 of the senator’s constituents at a Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce meeting.

So we might think that processing the Haley-Volvo deal through any legislative process is a nice opportunity for Leatherman — and other legislators aggrieved by Haley’s personal attacks — to confect a little payback vengeance.

“That just won’t happen,” Leatherman declares emphatically. “Any commitment made by the governor or the secretary acting in good faith will be honored. This is not about politics. It’s not personalities. It’s about the business of the state and what’s best for South Carolina. Let that message be heard loud and clear.”

Here’s betting that in her most fearless moments, Gov. Haley agrees with — and welcomes — Leatherman’s message.

Apparently, Haley objects only to certain types of borrowing, like the funding of college buildings and facilities and national guard armories. She’s apparently okay with debt related to economic development — the types that don’t require further legislative approval.

A House committee on Monday proposed $70 million of projected surplus revenues be directed to the Volvo deal. The state would issue bonded debt to cover another $50 million for Interstate 26 interchanges and the main connective road to the automaker’s $500 million facility.

But the Volvo incentives package exceeds $200 million and Haley apparently tallies that she’s $123 million short. Reportedly she wants to use existing bonded authority to cover that amount — and she expects the Legislature’s Joint Bond Review Committee to do just that when it meets today.

But as many legislators have noted, the state’s bonded debt ceiling for economic development has only a $50 million cushion. One alternative for covering the balance is incremental conventional general obligation bond financing — the very borrowing mechanism Haley has railed against.

There are reports that the governor might propose some “creative accounting” such as “interest-only” payments on existing bonds. This might side-step her “no-new-borrowing” edict, but it would be a costly and imprudent fiscal tactic that rating agencies would likely notice.

No doubt, Sen. Leatherman and his colleagues will have some ideas, too.

“We’ll make sure the Volvo commitments are taken care of,” Leatherman said, “and we’ll make sure that happens without compromising the state’s fiscal stability.”

So we South Carolinians once again notice as our governor works to run our state in total balance to ideology that might or might not fit our state’s strategic needs.

She is not alone among governors so self-challenged.

In Louisiana, Gov. Bobby Jindal is very transparent about this subscription to the ultra-conservative advocacy groups. The New Orleans Times Picayune reported Monday that Jindal “has said he would veto any state budget that doesn’t meet the pledge guidelines laid out by Americans for Tax Reform, an advocacy organization in the Washington, D.C., area.”

The beacon leading South Carolina above such political fray is Sen. Leatherman’s summary message that good-faith deals will be honored.

But the debate has been seeded.

Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, set the context nicely: “You have to be careful when you issue all kinds of declarative statements one way or another because sometimes you have to come back around to the very people you trashed.”

Volvo might want to tune out for a while.

This discourse is looking very much like classic political sausage-making.

Ron Brinson, a former associate editor of this newspaper, is a North Charleston city councilman. He can be reached at rbrin1013@gmail.com.