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Governor asks SC in speech to boldly roar into the 20s

January 23, 2020 GMT
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CORRECTS TO JAN. 22, 2020-South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster delivers the State of the State address at the South Carolina Statehouse, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)
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CORRECTS TO JAN. 22, 2020-South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster delivers the State of the State address at the South Carolina Statehouse, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Gov. Henry McMaster said South Carolina is booming under his leadership, but needs to take bold action to make sure schoolchildren don’t fall behind and let the state continue to prosper.

McMaster delivered the governor’s annual State of the State address to legislators on Wednesday. There were no surprises — what McMaster asked for or highlighted has already been announced in his budget plan or other public pronouncements.

Instead, the governor repeated a list of what he wants to accomplish: $410 million given back to taxpayers through income tax cuts and rebates, a $3,000 raise for all teachers, pre-kindergarten for all children whose families are eligible for Medicaid and for lawmakers to pass a bill that would outlaw almost all abortions in South Carolina.

“This year, let us roar into the twenties with renewed purpose. Let us be bold. Let us act on behalf of the sons and daughters of South Carolina, so that they may receive a state as bright with promise as that which we were blessed to inherit,” McMaster said.

In the Democratic response to the Republican governor’s speech, House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford said at best that’s a rosy look at a state where roads are in bad shape, public buildings are crumbling and social service agencies are struggling to protect the most vulnerable.

“Republicans have been in charge of our state for nearly 20 years straight — long enough to be responsible for the very problems they claim to be solving. Year after year, we see these same problems go from bad to worse,“said Rutherford, a Democrat from Columbia.

Many of McMaster’s proposals surround an additional $1.8 billion the state has to spend next budget year thanks to lawsuit settlements and growth leading to more taxes and fees collected.

Tax relief was at the top of the governor’s speech. McMaster wants the Legislature to cut $160 million in income taxes as part of a five-year effort to reduce the top rate that many taxpayers pay from 7% to 6%. The governor also wants to give $250 million back in proportional rebate checks to every income tax filer in the state.

“Taxes of all kinds at all levels add up quickly – little by little – to smother growth. Money spent by the people who worked to earn it goes farther, more efficiently and produces more dividends for them and us than the same dollars spent by the government,” McMaster said.

Rutherford said South Carolina has too many needs to be offering rebates or reducing its revenues.

“We cannot afford to waste this money. A tax rebate would be nothing more than a gimmick from the governor and we don’t need another one of those. Instead, we should use this money to fulfill our duty to protect the most vulnerable among us,” Rutherford said.

There were also items that don’t cost money. McMaster wants lawmakers to stop enrolling people in the state’s defined benefit pension on Dec. 31 and have all new state employees placed into a 401K plan. The governor cited economists who said the state may have to pay more than $20 billion in beneifts to pensioners over the next several decades.

“Putting money into an open system is like trying to fill a bathtub with the drain open. We must close enrollment first,” McMaster said.

The governor also briefly addressed abortion, calling for lawmakers to send bills that would ban nearly all abortions to his desk for him to sign. The bills have become hung up in the Senate as less conservative Republicans worry they would be overturned by judges if they were passed. They also want to see if legal challenges from other states that already passed greater restrictions are upheld.

“The right to life is the most precious of rights, and the most fragile. We must never let it be taken for granted,” McMaster said.

Rutherford said the state leaves even more money on the table by not legalizing gambling, which would be especially popular in tourist areas.

“We already saw success with the education lottery under Gov. Jim Hodges. Republicans at the time claimed the sky would fall, yet here we are, providing the opportunity for more and more students to pursue college degrees each year,” Rutherford said.

The “roaring into the twenties” line is an allusion to the 1920s, known as the Roaring 20s in most of the country. But the 1920s didn’t roar in South Carolina as the state entered the Great Depression early.

Cotton prices tumbled after the end of World War I and then boil weevils ate a lot of the cotton that was produced. Almost all the state’s economy was tied into agriculture and when farmers went into ruin, the state followed. About half of the state’s nearly 450 banks failed during the decade.

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Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP