COLUMBIA, S.C. — Gov. Henry McMaster on Wednesday gave his first sit-down interview since becoming governor and says the biggest issue facing South Carolina is not roads. “The most important issue is economic growth and prosperity, because that will eliminate poverty and that’s where most of our problems come from,” he says. “So it’s a multi-faceted challenge and it’ll take a multi-faceted approach. But I’m confident we have the talent and the people here to get it done. I’m very optimistic on our future.”
He does agree that the condition of state roads is a major issue, though, and that’s why he sent a letter to President Trump requesting $5 billion in federal money for our roads. “That’s our money. We sent it up there to begin with so I want to get it back. And we need it. Our state’s growing. We’ve got to do something important with our infrastructure, with the roads, with the bridges,” he says.
State lawmakers are working on bills that would raise the gas tax and other fees to pay for road improvements, saying we don’t know if or when we might get federal money, and, even if we get it, that would provide for the state’s road needs for about five years, while their plans are a long-term solution.
But Gov. McMaster says, “I’ve had a number of discussions with leaders of the General Assembly and they have a lot of ideas, but the way I look at it raising the taxes on the people of South Carolina on anything, whether you call it a fee, call it a tax, whatever you call it is the absolute last resort. And I believe we can find ways to get the job done without doing that. I hope we can. Taxes are a last resort. I think our people are already taxed enough.”
When asked where the money to fix roads would come from other than a tax increase, he said, “It comes from a growing economy. So how do you get a growing economy? The talent and the resources we have in this state are custom-made for an expansive economy. We see new companies wanting to come. I’ve had them since, in the short time I’ve been in this office, they have shown great interest.”
Addressing other issues the state is facing, he says growing the state’s economy and prosperity will also help the state’s efforts to make education more equitable between urban, suburban, and rural schools. And he says the state will have to put more money into the state’s pension system because the state has to keep its commitment to the people who put their money into it. But he says the state may have to look at switching to a different retirement system for future employees.