May 25, 2015

SC Big Story: Horry County legislator resigns after House investigation

State Rep. Nelson Hardwick, R-Surside Beach (Image: SC Legislative Services Agency)

State Rep. Nelson Hardwick, R-Surside Beach (Image: SC Legislative Services Agency)

A roundup of what’s making news in South Carolina state government.

An Horry County legislator, once the chairman of the South Carolina House’s agriculture and environmental committee, has resigned from the chamber.

“It is with a heavy heart that I hereby submit this letter of resignation from my seat,” State Rep. Nelson Hardwick, R-Surfside Beach, submitted in a letter to the House Speaker’s Office on Tuesday. “For personal reasons, I feel as though I should step away from life in public service to take some time to focus on my health.” Hardwick said his resignation took effect Tuesday evening.

But the sudden resignation came two weeks after an inappropriate conduct complaint was filed against Hardwick. A House Ethics Committee meeting scheduled for Wednesday was canceled after the Republican submitted his resignation letter. The House Speaker’s Office confirmed he had been shown the results of an investigation into his conduct shortly before he decided to step down.

“As Speaker, maintaining the integrity and public trust of this Body is my highest priority,” House Speaker Jay Lucas said after news of the investigation was made public. “Any inappropriate activity related to the men, women, and staff that serve in the House Chamber has been and will continue to be investigated thoroughly and expeditiously. Each of us have been entrusted with the opportunity to serve the public and that trust must never be called into question.”

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Senate bonds proposal tossed out on technicality

Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster (File)

Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster (File)

The state Senate has killed a proposed $236 million borrowing package on a technicality.

Lt. Governor Henry McMaster, who presides over the Senate, sustained an objection by State Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens, that the bonds package was inappropriately attached to a bill detailing how money from a state reserve fund should be spent. Martin had argued the bonds proposal was not “germane” to the budget.

The proposal would have sought to borrow $221 million for maintenance work at South Carolina’s public colleges and universities, with an additional $15 million set aside for National Guard armory repairs.

A group of senators who supported the package tried an unsuccessful attempt to override McMaster’s ruling, arguing that he was enforcing the Senate’s rules too strictly. However, the effort failed in a 14-31 vote, with three Democrats joining the otherwise all-GOP vote to agree with the Republican lieutenant governor. No Republicans voted to override McMaster.

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SC Senate agrees to spend surplus tax revenue on roads, employee bonuses

State Sen. Lee Bright effectively filibustered debate for much of Thursday, until both sides could work out an agreement on what to do with surplus tax revenue

State Sen. Lee Bright effectively filibustered debate for much of Thursday, until both sides worked out an agreement on what to do with surplus tax revenue

State senators have reached an agreement on how to spend an estimated $6.9 billion in General Fund revenue ($24.3 billion in total funds) next year — ending a threatened filibuster by promising to set aside any higher-than-expected tax revenue to pay for road maintenance.

The budget plan that passed 42-3 Thursday would cover the fiscal year that begins July 1. Senators agreed that any surplus funds would be mostly split between a pay bonus for state employees who make less than $100,000 (expected to cost around $23.5 million) and the rest going towards county road paving and maintenance (expected to be between $25-$27 million). A sliver of $4.1 million would go towards those counties hard-hit by the 2014 ice storm.

The budget’s language would require that any surplus revenue after the $27.6 million is set aside for pay raises and ice storm damage go exclusively to county road maintenance.

“We don’t know how much that’ll be, but we’re referring to it as supplemental money,” State Sen. Shane Massey said shortly before Thursday’s vote. The Board of Economic Advisors is expected to release its updated budget forecasts later this month.

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Governor signs bill ousting SC State University trustees

The governor's photographer tweeted out a photo of Haley signing the SCSU bill Thursday afternoon (Image: @zachpippin)

The governor’s photographer tweeted out a photo of Haley signing the SCSU bill Thursday afternoon (Image: @zachpippin)

After months of debates and procedural moves in the Statehouse, it’s now official.

The South Carolina State University board of trustees has been fired after Governor Nikki Haley signed a bill Thursday that was passed in both the House and Senate a few hours earlier. Both chambers reached a compromise on Wednesday.

Haley’s office said the governor has also named her appointee to the new temporary seven-member board that will replace the trustees. Her choice Milton Irvin is the chairman of New York investment bank CastleOak Securities and has spent more than 40 years in the investment banking field, according to his online bio.

Irvin also served on a White House advisory panel for Historically Black College and Universities (HBCUs), although he is a graduate of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy and the Wheaton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania.

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SC Senate Republicans try offering own roads plan

Heavy traffic along Interstate 26 northwest of Columbia (Image: SCDOT/File)

Heavy traffic along Interstate 26 northwest of Columbia (Image: SCDOT/File)

Desperate to get a roads plan passed with just a little over three weeks remaining in the regular Statehouse session, Senate Republicans floated a proposal they said would raise more money for road work, but also provide some income tax relief and change how the state’s transportation agency is governed.

The plan revealed by Majority Leader Harvey Peeler, R-Cherokee, on Thursday morning tries to merge what are currently competing efforts on the Senate floor. The proposal passed by an alliance of Democrats and moderate Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee last week would raise the state’s 17 cents per-gallon to 29 cents over a period of years. But the governor (and a majority of Senate Republicans) want an income tax cut to offset the additional money that customers would be paying at the pump.

Those conservatives say they also want a revamp in the commission that approves new construction projects around South Carolina. The Transportation Commission is chosen now by legislators from each of the state’s seven congressional districts, with the governor getting an eighth pick. But the GOP plan offered Thursday would change that to the governor picking each commissioner, with the appointed commission then choosing the Department of Transportation’s next leader.

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