Business leaders offered congratulations and support to South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, who moved into his new office today after being sworn in Tuesday night as the state’s 117th governor.
McMaster, elected lieutenant governor in 2014, succeeded Gov. Nikki Haley after she resigned Tuesday following confirmation by the U.S. Senate as U.S. ambassador of the United Nations. McMaster will serve the remainder of Haley’s unexpired term, which will end Jan. 9, 2019.
State Sen. Kevin Bryant, R-Anderson, was elected by senators today to ascend to lieutenant governor and Sen. Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, was re-elected president pro tempore. Leatherman resigned the post on Tuesday so that Bryant could become lieutenant governor.
The 69-year-old McMaster has spent most of his adult life as a public servant, holding positions of U.S. district attorney, S.C. attorney general and lieutenant governor. Moving up to governor positions McMaster to serve as the state’s CEO of economic development efforts.
“With his proven leadership and experience, it will surely be an easy transition into his new role as governor,” Ted Pitts, president of the S.C. Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement. “We look forward to working with Gov. McMaster to continue business friendly policies that grow the Palmetto State’s reputation as the ‘it state’ for job creation and business.”
Since Haley took office in 2011, the state has announced 85,613 jobs and 672 projects worth $21.5 billion. The unemployment rate has dropped to 4.3% from 11%, and economic development projects have been announced in all 46 counties.
One of the key players in the state’s economic development efforts has been Bobby Hitt, a former BMW executive whom Haley named secretary of commerce when she took office.
Hitt, who serves at the pleasure of the governor, apparently will stay on the job in the McMaster administration, The State newspaper reported today.
Ben Homeyer, S.C. state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, offered his congratulations to McMaster.
"Our small-business members want to congratulate Henry McMaster on becoming governor of South Carolina,” Homeyer said in a statement. “Small business is the engine that drives South Carolina's economy, and we look forward to working with Gov. McMaster to create an environment where small, family-run businesses can continue to grow and create jobs."
McMaster takes over as the state faces several challenges in keeping pace with growth.
He’ll be expected to work with the General Assembly as it tries to come up with a long-term funding program so the S.C. Department of Transportation can fix the state’s crumbling roads and bridges. The DOT faces about a funding shortfall of about $1 billion a year.
In the past, the Legislature has used one-time money that could be bonded to increase road funding, but critics say a long-term funding solution that likely involves hiking the gas tax, as well as the cap on the vehicle sales tax — which is maxed at $300 — is needed. Those measures have failed win support in the General Assembly, largely because Haley vowed to veto any bill that raises the gas tax, the primary funding mechanism for road and bridge construction, without a significant reduction in the top bracket of the state income tax.
McMaster has not signaled whether he’d back an increase in the 16.75-cent per gallon fuel tax — second-lowest in the nation — or other funding remedies.