The new session of the General Assembly began two weeks ago, and we legislators were greeted by Gov. Henry McMaster’s 2022 glowing “State of the State” appraisal.
“South Carolina is booming,” said the Governor in his annual address.
Indeed, there is no question about it. South Carolina will begin getting a much-needed facelift as the result of more than $6 billion in windfall dollars gleaned from the American Rescue Plan passed the by the U.S. Congress, coupled with higher than expected tax collections that were spurred by our state’s decision to not shutter local businesses like so many other states did in 2021.
The bottom line is that South Carolina’s state government is currently in the strongest fiscal condition in our history. Business across the state is flourishing and, as the Governor pronounced, “Our family-friendly environment has produced historic gains in new jobs, capital investment and population growth. We now have the largest budget surplus, the largest rainy day reserve account balance, and the lowest debt in our history.”
As a result, our primary job as legislators this session will be to work out how to best utilize this abundance of newfound money in a judicious manner while providing for much needed infrastructure upgrades of our roadways, bridges and bringing high-speed broadband to rural areas of South Carolina
Gov. McMaster pointed out that our state’s population growth – especially along the coast – “has outpaced our ability to keep up with improvement of our transportation infrastructure.” Thankfully, he prioritized the need for widening from four lanes to six lanes both Interstate 95 here in the Lowcountry as well as Interstate 26 between Columbia and Charleston.
Additionally, he pointed to the need of repairing or replacing more than 400 bridges statewide, while resurfacing hundreds of secondary roadways. He recommended allocating $1.26 billion for these essentials.
Education was another focus with the Governor’s recommendations that additional funding be provided for teacher salaries if South Carolina is to be competitive with neighboring states. McMaster’s proposal is for our average salary for teachers be lifted to $66,524 including benefits. He noted starting teacher salaries should be raised to a $38,000 minimum.
However, in exchange, he declared that all school districts must disclose how they have spent every budgeted dollar each year (whether those funds are local, state or federal), and that this information must be published online by our Department of Education so parents and taxpayers will know exactly how their district money is being spent.
Among several other priorities, McMaster is also recommending cutting our state’s income tax. I heartily agree, as I emphasized in my column here last month. McMaster points out our economic success could be even better because it’s being stunted by the fact that our marginal income tax rate of 7% is the highest in the Southeast and 12th highest in the nation. For example, Arkansas is at 5.9%, Georgia and Virginia are 5.75% and North Carolina is 5.25%. This makes South Carolina less competitive for new jobs and capital investment.
Jeff Bradley is the representative for District 123 in the State House of Representatives.