COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina most powerful leaders met in the same room Tuesday to tell business owners their plans and sell a state that has made a sharp turnaround since the Great Recession a decade ago.
Gov. Henry McMaster told the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce he wants to cut income taxes by 1 percent. Senate President Pro Tem Hugh Leatherman said the state must revise its pension and other benefits before the promises to retirees become impossible to keep. And House Speaker Jay Lucas said the House is busy trying to protect ratepayers hurt by two fail nuclear plants.
The nuclear plant issue is looming over all others early in South Carolina’s legislative session. The chamber’s day — which included a special Statehouse tour and a dinnertime reception was sponsored by Dominion Energy. The Virginia company was virtually unknown in South Carolina last January, but suddenly it is a big player as it tries to lobby lawmakers to back a proposed merger with SCANA Corp, one of two utilities involved in the multibillion dollar plants that never generated a watt of power.
But for the most part, the leaders didn’t dwell on the nuclear problem. Instead, they reminded business leaders the state is booming. In December 2008 unemployment was 9.5 percent and rising fast. Last month the jobless rate was 4.1 percent and staying almost stable.
The three leaders, all Republicans, promised to keep a lid on regulation outside of the nuclear industry, where a law passed a decade ago allowed SCANA and its partner in the two now-abandoned nuclear plants, Santee Cooper, to charge ratepayers before even ground was broken on the project. Ratepayers have paid nearly $2 billion for the plants.
Lucas and Leatherman both agreed that South Carolina must review its pension system for public workers. There is a push to move new employees from a traditional pension to 401(k)-style retirement accounts.
“We can’t continue to be in the pension business,” Lucas said.
State employees said that isn’t fair as the benefit of a pension often makes up for lower salaries in the public sector.
A new topic also came up Tuesday.
McMaster, who was one of the first state officials anywhere to back President Donald Trump’s candidacy two years ago, said he will continue to oppose his ally on at least on issue. Trump signed a tariff charging more for foreign washing machines. South Korean manufacturer Samsung just opened a washing machine plant near Newberry. McMaster said the company was still assessing if it would have to cut the number of workers it planned to hire or reduce production.
McMaster said he wouldn’t stop fighting the tariff.
“I thought it was a bad decision. I told them so,” McMaster said. “But the facts did not win the day. But there is always another day.”