Gov. Nikki Haley slams S.C. House for borrowing plan

S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley

COLUMBIA — Gov. Nikki Haley slammed the state’s House of Representatives on Wednesday for a borrowing proposal she said would reverse years of fiscal restraint in South Carolina.

Haley specifically called out the chairman of the House’s budget-writing committee, Rep. Brian White, R-Anderson, for sponsoring a roughly half-billion dollar bond plan she said underwent little scrutiny.

“That is basically our call to action, it’s to go and remind the Chairman of Ways and Means this is South Carolina, this is not (Washington) D.C.,” Haley said. “To go let the members of the Ways and Means Committee know that we would appreciate it if they would reverse what just happened.”

White said he was disappointed Haley took to a press conference instead of discussing her concerns with him first, adding “it’s just politics, I guess.”

White also said it was “a little disingenuous” for her to say that the budget-writing process was done in the cover of darkness.

“It’s not like this was done secretly,” White said. “I didn’t write the budget alone. I didn’t write the bond bill alone.”

The House’s budget-writing panel has proposed an almost $500 million bond package for new workforce training programs, higher education projects and infrastructure, among others. The plan hasn’t hit the House for discussion.

Haley compared the bond bill to taking on irresponsible credit card debt. She stressed lawmakers should instead pay for projects as money flows in.

But Rep. Chip Limehouse, R-Charleston — one of the sponsors of the bond bill and a member of the Ways and Means Committee — said projects often never get started under the pay-as-you-go model.

Further, Limehouse said he’d vote for the bond package again, because $50 million would go toward helping pay for a women’s and children’s hospital at the Medical University of South Carolina.

“I think that’s a needed project,” Limehouse said. “And we’re locking the project in with today’s prices. If we waited for 10 years to get the money together, the cost would rise 200 percent.”

Rep. Jim Merrill, R-Charleston, added he had a “fundamental disagreement” with Haley’s statement. He noted that this 15-year bonds package is the first in more than a decade. Like Limehouse, Merrill co-sponsored the bond bill and also is a member of the Ways and Means Committee.

“To compare bonds to a credit card is just not correct,” Merrill said. “Now is the responsible time to invest in infrastructure or we’re going to end up the way that we are with the roads.”

Haley said her frustration with the bonds bill is not related to White’s lack of endorsement for her roads funding proposal, which calls for an income tax reduction combined with a gas tax increase.

White said he does not agree with claims her income tax reduction proposal would deplete the general fund at a time when the state is trying to resolve the financial issues of South Carolina State University, and education in the state’s rural areas. A recent Supreme Court decision said the state had failed to provide minimally adequate education to South Carolina’s poorest children.

“We need to wait on having some closure on some of those items before we move forward with depleting the general fund revenues beyond shifting car tax over,” White said. “You’ve got to look what’s in the best interest of the whole state and its financial viability.”

Reach Cynthia Roldan at 708-5891.