COLUMBIA -- Gov. Mark Sanford on Thursday signed into law new rates for businesses to pay into an unemployment trust fund and settle the nearly $1 billion in debt South Carolina owes the federal government.
The action seals a series of fixes at the discredited Employment Security Commission, now renamed the Department of Employment and Workforce.
S.C. Department of Commerce Secretary Joe Taylor said the new plan is good for business.
"We'll see new accountability now," Taylor said. "I think this is one major step at moving us forward to reaching the maximum potential that we have here in South Carolina."
Sanford recalled being called a "grinch" at Christmas time in 2008 when he threatened not to sign off on a loan until the agency made immediate changes, which would have effectively cut off benefits to the unemployed.
Since then, the state has borrowed about $890 million from the federal government to pay unemployed workers the benefits they're guaranteed. The debt is projected to grow to $2 billion before the state can afford to pay the benefits without federal loans.
The governor's concerns set off a chain reaction that resulted this year in a total shake up of the agency. Legislation passed earlier this year kicked out the former management, made the agency part of the governor's Cabinet, reinstated fraud investigation and stopped people fired for egregious acts from collecting benefits.
The new rates on businesses will go into effect in January. The unemployment benefits account is funded by annual taxes businesses pay on each worker on the payroll.
South Carolina's debt to the federal government is expected to be paid off by 2014, under the new system. The trust fund will be built back up to levels able to handle a steep recession by 2019.
Businesses eventually will be charged between zero and about $900 for each employee, depending on the frequency the business lays off workers. Over time, 95 percent of all businesses will pay less in taxes than they do now.