What’s going on in South Carolina politics?

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February 20, 2023 by Scott Crosby - Views: 73

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What’s going on in South Carolina politics?

What’s going on in South Carolina politics?

Every January, attendees to the monthly First Monday luncheon at the Poinsett Club get the full scoop on South Carolina’s government.

S520-1.jpgJanuary’s presentation is always reserved for a talk by the Speaker of the South Carolina House.  This year marked the first visit to the First Monday podium by South Carolina’s new Speaker, Murrell Smith.  

Speaker Smith covered a lot of ground, and had some noteworthy things to say.

He began by commenting on South Carolina’s economic growth.  In 2021, corporate investment in the state amounted to $4.3 billion, and brought 15,000 new jobs.

Although the final numbers for 2022 are not yet available, so far the investment in S.C. by businesses for 2022 total more than $10.3 billion – a new record – adding another 14,000 jobs statewide.  

Taxes were next on the list.

Republicans have held control of the Legislature for the past 25 years.  In that time, the General Assembly (Senate and Legislature) has cut taxes by more than $44 billion.

South Carolina residents enjoy the 8th lowest overall tax-rate in the U.S.  The state’s businesses enjoy the 5th best corporate taxation ranking.

Low taxes pay off

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the state’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) increased 10% during that time.  South Carolina had the 3rd lowest GDP loss due to COVID lockdowns and restrictions in the U.S.

Overall, noted Speaker Smith, South Carolina’s GDP has increased 26% over the last five years.

Prosperity attracts people from other states

The 2020 U.S. Census shows that South Carolina’s population growth makes it the tenth fastest-growing state in the Union, and is one of 13 states with more people moving in than out.  

Prosperity creates jobs

With well over 100,000 unfilled jobs available, it is easy to understand why South Carolina’s unemployment rate stands at a low 3.3%.  

The Agenda of the 125th Session of the South Carolina House

The top-priority items on the current (2022-2023) agenda for the House were next on Speaker Smith’s list.

Public Safety

Legislation has been passed that will strengthen the penalties for Fentanyl crimes, fully fund police departments, end catch-and-release, mandate cash bail, and eliminate personal recognizance bonds for violent offenders.

Conservative Values

The South Carolina House seeks to promote Conservative values, especially including defending the Second Amendment, protecting life, and streamlining adoptions.

Economic Development

Speaker Smith emphasized the desire for job openings in the state to be filled by state residents, not people from other states.

27.9% of South Carolina’s college graduates move to other states.  In contrast, Georgia attracts 14.5% more college grads than graduate from its colleges and universities.

A new office, the Statewide Workforce Development Coordinator, and a new website will make it easier to learn about jobs in the public sector.

The House also seeks to address barriers to workforce entry, such as affordable childcare and transportation, as well as to cut red tape, such as unnecessary permit requirements.

Infrastructure improvements receiving priority include improvements to roads and bridges, site development, and broadband access to the Internet for rural areas.


Top priorities include empowering parents in their children’s education, open enrollment, charter schools, ESAs, and curriculum transparency.

Speaker Smith also stressed increased accountability for county school boards, both in their expenditures and in school curriculums, and a “money follows the child” policy for those attending charter schools.

Teacher recruitment and retention issues beyond higher pay are also being addressed.

Fiscal Discipline

Speaker Smith emphasized prioritizing budgeting for people, not programs, lowering the tax burden for working families, increasing the state’s financial reserves, pushing back on the Federal government’s inflationary policies, and saying “No” to Environmental, Social, and Governmental (ESG) agendas, which includes pro-socialistic (anti-freedom), anti-weapons, and “socially-correct” demands.

Legislation passed in 2020-2021

The two years of the 124th House session included a number of legislative actions that were of interest to most South Carolinians.

Abortion and the Fetal Heartbeat Bill

In light of the Dobbs vs. Jackson decision by the U.S. Supreme Court (overturning Roe vs. Wade), a House committee was formed to study and formulate appropriate legislation regarding abortion.

The Fetal Heartbeat Bill was the result.  It outlaws abortions (excepting for the mother’s life, rape, or incest) once a heartbeat is detected in a fetus, and is regarded as the biggest step forward in pro-life legislation in more than twenty years.

However, the law’s implementation is currently blocked by the S.C. Supreme Court.  Speaker Smith feels their decision is reminiscent of the Roe vs. Wade decision.

Second Amendment

The 124th House session’s goal has been to expand Second Amendment rights in South Carolina.  The result was several pro-Second Amendment changes.

Those changes included the passage of the “Open-Carry with Training” Bill in March of 2021.  This change allows a firearm to be carried openly in South Carolina if the individual has undergone proper training and received certification.

Permit fees were also eliminated.

“Sanctuary state” legislation was also passed, preventing any South Carolina officials from enforcing any Federal weapons bans or confiscation demands, should those occur.

Redistricting and Voting

South Carolina is broken up into various election districts for voting purposes, to assure equal representation at the ballot box for all voters.  Redistricting occurs every ten years, based on census data.

The South Carolina population was 4,625,364 in 2010; in 2020 the count was 5,118,425.  

For 124 seats in the S.C. House, the ideal district size in 2011 was 37,301.  For 2021, the ideal size was 41,278.  Due to court cases, the reapportionment will go into effect for the 2024 election cycle.

Election Uniformity

Reforms of the voting process began in 2020 as improved means to assure uniformity and safeguards became available.  As Speaker Smith put it, “We wanted to make it easier to vote and harder to cheat.  If people don’t have confidence in the outcomes of their elections, they will lose confidence in their government.”

Changes were made to the election process to assure voting systems cannot be tampered with, and to assure election integrity.  

Those changes included:  early voting; uniformity – i.e., votes are to be counted in the same way in every County; audits of election results; cleaning up voter rolls via coordinated data with DMV, probate courts, and DHEC; end the use of drop boxes.

The 2021 Budget

Speaker Smith made several comments about important budget issues.

Tax Relief

The House took several steps to reduce the amounts paid by taxpayers in the state.  As a result, taxes were reduced for almost all taxpayers, and no taxes were increased.

Income brackets for tax rates were reduced to only two.  The 4%, 5%, and 6% brackets were combined and set at 3%, for income above $3,200. The top tax rate of 7% was reduced to 6.5%, and will be reduced to 6% over the next five years. The result is $1 billion in income tax relief.

A $1 billion rebate was also sent to taxpayers, for a total of $2 billion of tax relief for South Carolinians.  

Funding Reserves

The amount of money allocated to the General Reserve Fund each year was increased from 5% to 7%, and the amount allocated to the Capital Reserve Fund each year was increased from 2% to 3%.

K-12 Education

Annual funding for public education was increased by $275 million.  The goal is to focus state dollars on classrooms and teachers.

The starting salaries for teachers was increased from 36,000 to 40,000.  The minimum salary for each pay-grade was increased by $4,000.  

Speaker Smith noted that educators’ salaries have increased by 32% over the last five years.

The school funding formula was modified to provide simplicity, flexibility, accountability, and transparency.  More money will go to rural and poor school districts.  $140 million has been budgeted for capital improvements in disadvantaged school districts.  

Higher Education

For the fourth year, legislation froze tuition mitigation in-state, for undergraduates at all public 4-year and 2-year USC campuses.  

LIFE, HOPE, Palmetto Fellows Scholarships, and Lottery for Tuition Assistance are fully funded for the 7th straight year.


South Carolina has the 4th largest state highway system in the U.S., serving the 10th fastest growth in population.

With ARPA and the current budget, about $1 billion in additional state road funding is available. Recurring dollars pulled down hundreds of millions in federal funding.

Currently, South Carolina has two major interstate projects:  the widening of 70 miles of I-26, and the widening of 33 miles of I-95.  

In addition, $250 million is allocated for secondary and low-volume primary roads, and $900 million statewide for water and sewer.

Law Enforcement

Due to critical shortages of Law Enforcement Officers (LEOs) and Correctional Officers, $38 million has been allocated to raise starting pay.

$63 million has been budgeted for officer training, safety, and security.  That includes $10 million for professional development, and $20 million to provide body cameras and armor for all LEOs.

State Employees

A 3% pay raise, the largest in six years, is budgeted for all state employees.  Each state employee will also receive a $1,500 bonus.

Natural Resources

$65 million is budgeted for land conservation to protect and preserve properties throughout the state, and to provide additional outdoor recreation opportunities for South Carolinians.

Economic Development

$350 million is budgeted for the South Carolina Ports Authority to complete the Navy Base Intermodal Facility and inner harbor container barge infrastructure project.


$65 million is budgeted for the state’s mental and behavioral healthcare services.  $1.3 million is budgeted for a secondary statewide suicide crisis hotline, which will be linked into the nationwide 9-8-8 call center technology.


In his concluding remarks, the Speaker pointed out that the state’s current success is no accident; that it came from the hard work of Republican leadership over the past decades.  In the same way, now is the time to “plant the seeds” for decades and generations to come.  

Speaker Smith finished with the statement that it is his hope that we stay focused during this legislative session on the things that matter:  making South Carolina the best place to live, work, and raise a family.  ■

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