Gov. Henry McMaster vowed to continue fighting against the opioid crisis and reiterated his support for selling Santee Cooper during his first State of the State address Wednesday night.
McMaster praised the Palmetto State’s addition of 17,000 jobs in 2017 and touted his executive budget, which proposed total state tax cuts of $2.2 billion.
“The first year’s cut amounts to $139 million,” he said. “To all the South Carolinians listening tonight: that’s $139 million that would have gone to government, and will stay with you instead.”
Much of the address was spent touting the benefits of low taxes, “school choice,” and his executive order withholding state funds from abortion providers, despite the fact that no abortion providers directly receive state funds.
He also celebrated President Trump and congressional Republicans for last month’s federal tax bill before adding that South Carolina needs to cut even more taxes.
“Like Presidents Reagan, Kennedy and now Trump, I believe that low taxes spur economic growth and prosperity,” he said. “Yet, South Carolina currently has the highest marginal income tax rate in the southeast – the 12th highest in the nation.”
McMaster promised to double down on the fight against the opioid crisis. In December, he declared the crisis a public health emergency in an effort to direct statewide emergency and law enforcement efforts towards the crisis.
“For the last three years, we had more opioid-related deaths in South Carolina than homicides and drunk driving deaths combined,” he said. “In 2016, this ‘silent hurricane’ killed 616 people.”
President Trump moved to allow offshore oil and gas drilling in many American coasts earlier this month. McMaster has broken from the man he endorsed for president on at least this one issue, continuously denouncing the move. In last night’s speech, he reiterated his stance.
“With offshore drilling comes the construction of onshore infrastructure – refineries, gas storage tanks, maintenance and operating facilities, trucks and traffic. We have no place to put it,” he said. “It is incompatible with everything we have and do on our coast.”
In keeping with his response to the V.C. Summer fallout, in which South Carolina ratepayers have already contributed $2 billion to the abandoned construction of two nuclear reactors in Fairfield County, McMaster said that the only way to prevent further payments is to sell the state-owned utility Santee Cooper.
“This debt will have to be paid,” he said. “But it won’t be paid from the sale of power from these two unfinished nuclear reactors. Santee Cooper will have no choice but to raise rates on customers. Their largest customer, the electric cooperatives, will be required to pay roughly 70% of it for the next 30 years. The only feasible solution suggested so far is the sale of Santee Cooper.”
He also said that he would sign a bill that replaces the Base Load Review Act — the law that allows the utilities to continue charging customers for the reactors. Multiple such bills were pre-filed in the state legislature.
Dominion Energy offered to buy the privately-owned utility SCANA, which owned a majority stake on the two reactors at V.C. Summer. Its subsidiary, SCE&G, is charging the average customer $27 per month for the failed nuclear reactors. Dominion has previously said that the deal is off the table if the Base Load Review act is repealed.
S.C. Rep James Smith (D-Richland) delivered the Democratic response immediately after.
“I am tired of seeing South Carolina on the bottom of every list we want to be on the top of and on the top of every list we want to be on the bottom of,” he said. “There is absolutely nothing, nothing you have just heard from the Governor’s version of the State of the State that will change that.”
Smith did not directly respond to McMaster’s speech, instead focusing on strengthening public education and equal wages.
“Women working full-time earn 74 cents on the dollar compared to men for the same job,” Rep. Smith added. “African-American women earn just 53 cents on the dollar compared to men. In other words, women work for South Carolina, but South Carolina does not yet work for women.”
Smith’s response starts around 22:50: