COLUMBIA, S.C. - Ahead of her swearing-in ceremony that launches Gov. Nikki Haley's second term, she talked about her legislative priorities in an interview with The Associated Press.
While giving no details on her plan to fund road and bridge work, she said it will be among the many proposals she'll lay out over the next few weeks. The Department of Transportation needs an additional $1.5 billion annually over the next 20 years just to bring roads to good condition, according to its December 2012 report. A 2013 law provides, over 10 years, up to $1 billion total by leveraging state money with federal aid and borrowing. Legislative efforts to come up with a broader plan have been stymied by Haley's pledge to veto any increase in the state's 16-cents-per-gallon gas tax, unchanged since 1987.
Ethics reform is another priority left over from Haley's first term. Since 2012, lawmakers of both parties have called strengthening ethics laws a top priority. Those pledges occurred after the House Ethics Committee cleared Haley on allegations she illegally lobbied for an engineering firm and a hospital while in the House. After she was cleared, Haley helped lead the charge for reform.
Q: Lay out your priorities for 2015 and beyond.
A: You're going to continue to see jobs, but with more of an emphasis on workforce training - making sure it's our South Carolinians that get those jobs. You're going to continue to see education reform, but we're going to keep ramping it up to make sure we're focusing on every child getting a good education regardless of where they live.
You're going to see us continue to focus on infrastructure and focus on ethics reform because, keep in mind, in the last term here we saw the lieutenant governor indicted. We saw a state senator indicted. We saw the speaker of the House indicted, and then I had to remove eight sheriffs. ...In fairness to the elected officials, the ethics laws are gray. It's got to be black and white. They need to know right from wrong. They need to not have to make decisions or ask a lawyer on whether they're doing the right thing. They should be able to know themselves. That's really what I'm pushing for - if an elected official is breaking an ethics law, they will have done it knowingly, not because they didn't know what they were doing and made a mistake.
Q: In what order would you prefer these priorities reach your desk?
A: Ethics definitely first because I think the people have made it loud and clear they've had enough examples to watch that they're not going to wait on the Legislature any more. I also think the legislators are feeling it for the first time where they understand this isn't really about their comfort. So we think the time is now. We're really going to push for ethics to be taken on first and then everything will follow in sync. This needs to be an active, busy year. This doesn't need to be a year of just a couple of success stories.
Q: On infrastructure, legislators say any plan must either gain your support or have enough legislative support to override a veto. Do you still promise to veto any increase in the gas tax?
A: The part that bothers me is people wanting to raise a tax just because. When you're working on creating a strong business climate, you don't just raise taxes and think businesses don't notice or people don't feel it. We are going to come out with something. This is not easy, and that's why it took us so long to do this. When we come out with it, it will be something we believe in and something I feel like we can manage comfortably and something that will require prioritization and looking at the DOT, and is the DOT functioning properly to start with.
Q: A month ago, your task force for combatting prescription drug abuse came out with its recommendations, chief of which was requiring doctors to use a statewide database for checking their patients' prescription history. Do you support your task force's report?
A: Yes, I support their recommendations. The one thing I don't want to do is, that database has to be operational and functional in a way that's efficient for those physicians to use, or we're costing them time. If you're costing time, you're costing money. What I've asked for is the status of that database. ... I'm not going to tell physicians to do something until I know it's ready for them to do it.
Q: Though you've dismissed it, you continue to be mentioned not only as a contender to be a GOP vice presidential pick in 2016 but also a presidential hopeful.
A: I remind everybody that the last four years they said I wouldn't finish my first term, and I said then I'm committed to this state. This time, you're going to hear more chatter. You're going to hear me use it in a way that profiles South Carolina in a big way, but I am committed to this state. I'm committed to finishing what I start, and I'm committed to finishing this term - not only do I have reforms that I desperately want to see happen and work I want to do, but we've got kids. We've got a life. So, no, what I will do is welcome all the presidential candidates to South Carolina, tell them they've got to shake every hand, go to every region, spend whatever money they want to spend and also advertise us as the place to do business and the place to live and continue to increase our profile. But that's as far as it's going to go.