During his fifth State of the State address on Wednesday night, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster boasted about the state's "booming" economy and laid out plans for how to spend the legislature's additional money.
"Let us seize this moment by thinking big, by being bold, by being confident and making transformative investments," McMaster said.
The Republican governor called on the joint session of the General Assembly to eliminate income taxes on the retirement pay of military veterans and South Carolina law enforcement officers, firefighters and peace officers.
McMaster also called for more than $1 billion to be invested in the state's roads, bridges, highways and interstates. This investment would be used for projects such as widening I-26 to six lanes between Columbia and Charleston and widening I-95 to six lanes in the Lowcountry.
"Our booming economy and rapid population growth have outpaced the state's ability to keep up with improvements to our transportation infrastructure," McMaster said.
Mental health was also a focus of the address. McMaster recognized a "mental health crisis exists in South Carolina, especially among our young people." To combat this crisis, he said the behavioral health services currently provided by the Department of Mental Health may need to be privatized.
"The cost of doing nothing for these children is unimaginable and the damage, well, the damage likely will be immeasurable," McMaster said.
McMaster also focused on education. His executive budget would raise the minimum salary for a starting teacher by $3 thousand. He also emphasized the importance of there being a law enforcement officer in every school and parental involvement in the classroom.
"Parents have every right to express their concerns to a teacher, to a principal, to members of the school board or anybody else," McMaster said.
While laying out what to do with the legislature's surplus budget, part of which comes from federal COVID-19 relief, McMaster also criticized the federal government and President Joe Biden.
"South Carolina is facing a new challenge, an unusual challenge — the dangerous, irresponsible and sometimes unconstitutional behavior of our own federal government," McMaster said.
The governor bemoaned the Biden administration's immigration policies and the federal government's challenges to South Carolina's abortion policies, as well as the federal government's efforts to enforce mask mandates in public schools.
As is custom, the minority party gave a response to the governor's address. Rep. Spencer Wetmore from Folly Beach gave the Democratic Party's response.
Wetmore emphasized the need for bipartisanship and criticized the governor for focusing on "political extremism."
"It's time to stop focusing only on the next election and instead focus on getting things done for this state and the people who live here," Wetmore said.
Wetmore echoed McMaster in a call for improving South Carolina's infrastructure. But, she differed in also calling for protecting the environment from threats such as pollution and climate change.
Wetmore also brought attention to South Carolina's rising crime rate and called for more to be done to combat it. Expanding Medicaid was also an issue Wetmore focused on that McMaster did not.
"Too many working people fall through the cracks by making too much money to qualify for Medicaid, but still not enough to afford the over-priced health insurance. While other states have expanded Medicaid, South Carolina continues to fail our working families," Wetmore said.