Governor Henry McMaster called for renewed investments in South Carolina's schools and law enforcement and emphasized the state's economic strength in his sixth State of the State address Wednesday night at the Statehouse.
"We will continue to act boldly, think big and continue building on our successes," McMaster said.
The Republican governor also said he disagreed with the South Carolina Supreme Court's ruling that the roughly six-week abortion restriction he signed into law was unconstitutional and a violation of privacy and called for renewed efforts to restrict abortion in the state.
"I remain optimistic that we will prevail in our historic fight to protect and defend the right to, and the sanctity of, life," McMaster said.
In the sixth iteration of his address to the joint session of the General Assembly, McMaster celebrated the state's "booming" economy, a state budget surplus of over $3.5 billion and over $10 billion in capital investment.
"It should come as no surprise that 2022 was the most successful year for economic growth in our state’s history," McMaster said.
The governor praised the recent improvements to the state's education system, such as a consolidated funding formula, a shrunken student-teacher ratio and an uptick in the average teacher salary. McMaster said his executive budget proposes raising the minimum teacher salary $2,500 to $42,500 and that his goal is to raise it to at least $50,000 by 2026.
"Working together, we have taken bold steps to improve the education our children receive in the classroom," McMaster said.
Expanded oversight over the management of public schools and increased use of the state's lottery funds for scholarships are on the governor's education priority list. McMaster also called for a freeze on college tuition for in-state students for the fourth consecutive year and proposed providing $80 million to help South Carolina students attend an in-state public university, college or technical college.
USC third-year political science student Jazmine Lara Guerrero, a first-generation student, was recognized by McMaster for the scholarships and honors she has received.
The governor called for pay raises and state income tax credits to help retain the state's law enforcement and attract new law enforcement officers. Stricter penalties for repeat criminals and renewed efforts to resume executions were also emphasized.
"To keep South Carolinians safe, we must maintain a robust law enforcement presence — and properly fund the police," McMaster said.
McMaster also urged state lawmakers to further numerous policy goals, namely improving South Carolina's roads, bridges, sewers and water systems. The governor recommended that a minimum of $380 million from American Rescue Plan Act funds be used to continue upgrading water and sewer systems and said his executive budget provides an additional $850 million to speed up projects to relieve traffic congestion and repair roads and bridges.
"There is no infrastructure more in need of big, bold and continued investment than our state’s roads, bridges, highways and interstates. Our successes are outrunning our infrastructure," McMaster said.
State Senator Ronnie Sabb of Greeleyville delivered the Democratic response to the governor's address. Sabb echoed McMaster's calls to improve the state's infrastructure but emphasized that many of these initiatives are only possible because of the recent infrastructure bill passed by Democratic President Joe Biden.
Sabb agreed with the governor's efforts to raise teacher pay while also calling for increased investments in mental health and the passage of a hate crime bill.
"To ensure that students, no matter their zip code, have the opportunity to attend modern and safe schools, we need a recurring stream of state revenue dedicated to funding new facilities and making upgrades to outdated schools," Sabb said.
The state senator also called for a raise to the state's minimum wage and criticized McMaster and Republican lawmakers in their effort to pass abortion restrictions.
"Women have a fundamental right to control their own bodies. Any decision they make is between them and their doctor — not a group of male politicians sitting in judgment in Columbia," Sabb said.