WCBD-TV: News, Weather, and Sports for Charleston, SC

From our News Partners at WCBD-TV:

COLUMBIA, S.C. -  Gov. Nikki Haley gave her fourth State of the State address Wednesday night, asking lawmakers to support her plans that she says will improve roads and schools without raising taxes.

“So instead, this year, as last, our budget writers should take the additional revenue that inevitably appears after our budget is balanced — what I call “the money tree,” — and invest it in our infrastructure,” she said. “Since 2005, the ‘money tree’ that falls every year has averaged more than 106 million dollars. According to the Department of Transportation, those dollars, invested the right way, will be worth more than $1.3 billion in additional road and bridge improvements.”

Rep. James Smith, D-Columbia, scoffed at the governor’s plan. "What did the governor offer tonight? A money tree. That's not a plan. I learned when I was five years old, my parents told me money doesn't grow on trees.” He said Democrats will offer their own plan soon that would provide more money for roads –money that’s definite—also without raising taxes.

Sen. Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg, also wasn’t happy with the governor’s plan to improve roads. “I feel like we need to fund it out of the General Fund,” he said after the speech. “We need to basically make it a priority. And the shape that our roads are in is an embarrassment."

The big question is whether it’s possible to raise enough money to improve the state’s roads and bridges without raising taxes. The SC DOT says it would need $29 billion over the next 20 years in additional money, over and above what it already gets, to bring the state’s roads and bridges up to a level considered “good.” The governor’s plan, if that new money is there every year, would bring in an additional $1.3 billion over 10 years, while the agency needs $1.45 billion each year.

Asked if it’s possible to raise what’s needed for roads without raising taxes, Sen. Harvey Peeler, R-Gaffney, said, "I hope so. That's our effort. We're going to try to do that. It's going to take some innovative ways."

 Gov. Haley also asked lawmakers to support her education reform plan, which she announced two weeks ago.

“The most glaring failure on our part has been the failure to acknowledge that it simply costs more to educate a child in poverty,” she said. “Research shows that the cost of teaching low-income students with proven methods is roughly $1,200 more per child. As a state, we can’t afford to ignore that any longer.

“Under our proposed changes, school districts will receive 20 percent more in state dollars for each child that falls into the poverty index. In real terms, this simple change means that next year almost $100 million more will flow to South Carolina’s neediest children.”

Again, she would do that without raising taxes. The additional money would come from growth in state tax collections.

Sen. Karl Allen, D-Greenville, said after the speech, "I think it adopts or mirrors what the Democrats have been talking about, and that is investing more for our children in education."

The governor also called on lawmakers to pass a stricter ethics law, and applauded them for passing this week a government restructuring bill that will create a new state Department of Administration to replace the Budget and Control Board.

Photo Credit: Sean Pavone Photo Shutterstock