Governor Nikki Haley is now a year into her job but, in her second State of the State address Wednesday, she still emphasized her pro-business attitude.
AUDIO: Listen to complete speech
The governor spent much of her 47 minutes on jobs, which is viewed as a top priority for a state that reported 9.9 percent unemployment in December.
“The good news is: we’ve made great progress this past year,” Haley said, “But the bad news is: we still have a ways to go. But my pledge to each of you sitting here tonight… is that I will not rest until we’ve created a climate in which every citizen of this state who wants a job, has a job.”
She said her office would unveil a restructured workforce training program in the coming weeks that seeks to coordinate business needs with technical colleges and vocational rehabilitation programs “It is our responsibility to ensure that the left hand is talking to the right. That we aren’t wasteful (and) that every dollar directed to workforce training is actually spent on training our workforce.”
She said the state Department of Commerce had helped to recruit 20,000 new jobs to South Carolina since last January. She notably took the time to recognize, sitting in the galleries at her invitation, representatives of a dozen companies that have announced major economic development deals in the state last year.
She also took the opportunity to attack unions and emphasized that she would oppose them in the state. “We don’t have unions in South Carolina because we don’t need unions in South Carolina.”
Although the state faces a rosier budget picture next year, with lawmakers expecting to work with over $900 million in new revenue (including about $545 million in recurring funds), the governor called for restraint . “To permanently control spending, our government can and must function within a spending cap,” Haley said, reiterating her position that any excess revenue must go to tax relief, debt relief, or reserve funds.
She also spent some time on the state’s pension system, which faces roughly $14 billion in future liabilities. Haley said many of the actions taken by the Budget and Control Board last fall helped ease the problems. Those actions included lowering the retirement system’s estimated rate of return on its investments, and ending automatic cost-of-living increases in years that the system loses money.
She asked legislators to pass measures recommended by a House ad hoc committee last year that would end the practice of allowing sick leave and vacation pay to be used in calculating retirement benefits. She also called for the state’s TERI program to be closed to new hires.
“If we take these steps now, we can ensure that our state employees have a reasonable, sustainable, comfortable retirement,” she told legislators, “If we continue to stick our heads in the sand, they may not have a retirement at all.”
The governor got applause from several legislators in the audience when she called on senators and representatives to end their separate retirement system and instead enroll in the plan used by other state employees.
For the second year in a row, the governor started off her speech by honoring those South Carolinians killed the previous year while serving in the military overseas.