Emphatic that South Carolinians should not pay for debt at a failed nuclear construction site or face the prospect of oil drilling off their coast, Gov. Henry McMaster outlined his vision Wednesday to “build a new prosperity for generations to come” by more efficient education policies and economic development.
The governor largely stayed to positions he had laid out in the days leading up to his first State of the State address since taking office exactly a year earlier. That included his pledge to veto any bill which allowed utilities to continue charging ratepayers for the ill-fated V.C. Summer project.
“Customers of Santee Cooper and SCANA have already paid billions for this project,” he said. “Now, they face the prospect of also being charged for years in the future for reactors which may never be completed. This cannot happen. We must carefully assess our situation. We must construct the best possible solution. The customers must either get the reactors or get their money back.”
McMaster: ” The customers must either get the reactors or get their money back” (4:10)
He also said, with state-owned power utility Santee Cooper holding $8 billion in debt (roughly half from V.C. Summer), customers could be facing rate increases to pay off the project. “The only feasible solution suggested so far is the sale of Santee Cooper,” he said.
The governor also strengthened his opposition to potential oil or natural gas exploration off the South Carolina coast. The Department of the Interior earlier this month opened most of the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf to seismic survey firms, including off Palmetto State waters. McMaster has formally requested a waiver from the surveys.
“We have no place to put (oil industry infrastructure),” he said. “It is incompatible with everything we have and do on our coast. Oil spills, like hurricanes, can disrupt and damage a state’s economy. We cannot stop hurricanes, but we can avoid oil spills. We cannot take a chance.”
McMaster also pushed for an income tax cut across all brackets, a proposal he first introduced while revealing his budget plan three weeks ago. “We must act. We must heed the lessons of history,” he said. “We must respect the right of the people to their own money, for their own purposes, according to their own priorities.”
The governor also focused much of his speech on education programs, introducing a proposed “South Carolina Workforce Partnership” that would work with business to create internships, dual college credit and skilled trade certificate programs for rural students.
“Just as we cannot have a thriving economy without an educated workforce, we cannot have a productive educational system without economic growth,” he said. “When a school district prospers, the schools in that district prosper.”
He also sought $5 million for needs-based grants to help those school districts which could not afford to keep a police officer on campus.
McMaster also pushed for a more efficient bureaucracy, including consolidation of school districts and improved rental or leasing options between the various state agencies under his purview. He noted the Department of Parole, Probation and Pardon Services had met its vehicle needs by leasing unused cars from other agencies.
“There’s no reason we cannot extend this “shared services” model across other agencies with similar functions – human resources, accounts payable, procurement, budgeting, reporting and maintenance,” he said.