Rutherford: Haley using threats to push her road plan to GOP

House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, D-Columbia, said he heard from colleagues that Gov. Nikki Haley threatened to retaliate against House Republicans if they didn’t support her road plan.

COLUMBIA — Gov. Nikki Haley has threatened to retaliate against House Republicans if they don’t support her plan to fix the state’s roads and bridges, the top House Democrat charged Thursday.

House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford made the claim during a Statehouse news conference at which House and Senate Democrats said they had begun an Internet campaign through social media and a website to let the public know “really what her plan does.”

Rutherford, of Columbia, said Democrats in the Legislature were “disturbed” to learn Haley had threatened Republican House members during their caucus meeting that if they passed anything other than her plan, she would “not only veto it, she would come after them in their own elections.”

“I wasn’t in the meeting, so I didn’t hear it,” Rutherford said. “But I’ve heard it from other members who told me that that’s exactly what happened. We will be proud in the future to stand with our Republican colleagues when we can develop a plan, one that does not enact a tax cut for the rich and a tax increase on the poor.”

Several Republican House members said Haley did not attended their caucus meeting on Tuesday, but said Thursday they had heard through other members that Haley had threatened a veto and to retaliate against any Republican who didn’t vote for her plan. None would say when the threat was made or to whom.

In response to Rutherford’s claim, Haley’s spokeswoman Chaney Adams issued a written statement saying, “Liberals in the General Assembly want a massive tax hike,” and Haley “will veto that — guaranteed.”

“Her plan is a tax cut every year, for every South Carolinian who pays income taxes, while at the same time providing major new funds for roads,” Adams said. “If others have plans that accomplish both of those things, she’s happy to hear about them.”

Tyler Jones, spokesman for House Democrats, said it’s unusual for Haley make such a threat. It is a strategy that former Gov. Mark Sanford used to employ but “didn’t work,” Jones said.

“It’s pretty much that’s the only card she has left to play,” Jones said. “She knows her plan is on life support. This is not going to end well for her.”

Haley’s plan would raise the tax on gasoline by 10 cents per gallon over three years while reducing the state income tax from 7 percent to 5 percent over 10 years.

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It also calls for the restructuring the Department of Transportation. Haley has vowed to veto any increase in the gas tax without the other two parts of her plan.

Last week, Haley’s website was rebranded as part of a new social media and digital campaign pushing her proposal. The site’s Truth and Facts section says Haley’s plan would cut taxes by $1.4 billion.

But information compiled by the Department of Revenue estimates it can be as much as $1.8 billion by the 10th year, once it’s fully implemented. Because the cuts in revenue would come from the general fund, the plan has been met with mixed reaction, while economists said the income tax cut could get consumers spending more.

The average taxpayer will save $689, according to the state’s estimates. But 46 percent — or 1.1 million — of South Carolina’s residents will receive no benefit from the plan. Those whose income exceeds $2 million will receive a $145,784 tax cut.

“Gov. Haley’s plan is nothing but a tax increase,” said Rep. James Smith, D-Columbia. “The plan essentially just gives $150,000 tax cut to a few millionaires and billionaires, but more than 1 million hard-working, middle-class South Carolinians will only see a tax increase.”

Reach Cynthia Roldan at 708-5891.