COLUMBIA — The S.C. Department of Revenue’s data will be as secure as any in the private or public sector by the time new cybersecurity enhancements are implemented following a massive breach of taxpayer information, Gov. Nikki Haley said Wednesday in her third State of the State address.
Haley, speaking to a joint session of the General Assembly, also called on state lawmakers to invest in the state’s substandard roads and bridges without raising the gas tax, and to take part in a “conversation” about changing the way education is funded.
And the first-term Republican renewed her calls for an individual income tax cut and passage of a major government restructuring measure that would give the governor’s office more control of the day-to-day functions of state government.
“Other states have seen the successes we’ve had in South Carolina and are nipping at our heels,” Haley said in again calling for the elimination of the 6 percent individual income tax bracket. “Look around the nation and see all the governors, the legislators, the states that are proposing slashing or even eliminating their income taxes. We have to keep up.”
The tax change would provide a small tax break to many residents.
Haley’s address won praise from Republican lawmakers, but Columbia real estate agent Jill Moylan, responding on behalf of Democrats, ripped Haley for the data breach at the Revenue Department affecting millions of taxpayers, and said the state can do better in many areas.
Moylan is a major Democratic donor but has voted in Democratic and Republican primaries.
Haley acknowledged in her remarks that the state should have done more to prevent the breach, but said she “wasn’t here to rehash that or to look backwards.”
Haley said she is more interested in making sure that no state in the country has better cybersecurity measures in place than South Carolina.
In an address that included broad opposition to federal policies, she reiterated that she will not support an expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.
The decision on whether to expand the joint federal-state program and provide coverage to hundreds of thousands of currently uninsured poor South Carolinians ultimately will be made by the Legislature.
Haley said the state’s approach to improving health outcomes will work better than a federal program.
“With such high costs and such poor outcomes, why would we throw more money at the system without first demanding improved efficiency, quality and accessibility?” Haley said.
Rep. David Mack, a North Charleston Democrat, said Haley’s remarks opposing the expansion and the federal government troubled him.
The state needs to leverage federal resources as much as possible, he said.
Lowcountry Republicans, including state Rep. Chip Limehouse, new state Sen. Paul Thurmond and House Speaker Bobby Harrell, praised Haley’s emphasis on tax reform and job creation.
Harrell said the cybersecurity improvements Haley highlighted are a good start in the wake of the massive cyberattack announced in October. Harrell said there needs to be more done to protect taxpayers, including providing credit monitoring beyond the one year currently offered by the state.
Haley called on legislators to work with her in looking at possible changes to the way K-12 education is funded.
Haley provided few specifics, saying the dialogue will be more productive if it doesn’t revolve around a controversial piece of legislation.
“I know that when we start to talk about how we fund our schools, a lot of people can get really nervous really quickly. So let’s take this calmly, and just start with a conversation,” she said.
Haley used contrasts from her own educational experience growing up in Bamberg to her children’s time in wealthier Lexington County Public Schools to highlight funding inequities between rural and metropolitan schools.
Haley said the state has to find a way to get more money to rural schools without relying on depressed local tax bases and without diminishing school funding in more economically vibrant parts of the state.
“I’m convinced that we can change our policies in ways that improve educational quality for all our children,” she said.
By Stephen Largen
Post and Courier
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