2018 begins today. But already, its agenda is full.
And that agenda directly will affect hundreds of thousands of South Carolinians.
A look at the year ahead:
1. The aftermath of S.C.’s nuclear meltdown
South Carolinians already have paid more than $2 billion for two nuclear reactors at the V.C. Summer site in Fairfield County that never will be finished.
To be resolved now? Will S.C. ratepayers get back any of their money? Or, adding insult to injury, will they be asked to pay more? And what changes will be made to a utility regulatory system that clearly failed to protect South Carolinians?
2. USC women repeat?
USC’s women’s basketball team won its first national championship last spring, a championship that was diminished, in the minds of some, by the fact that Mississippi State took out defending champion and women’s powerhouse Connecticut in the semi-finals.
This year, the Gamecocks – led by coach Dawn Staley and best-player-in-the-country A’ja Wilson – will have a chance to answer those critics and win their second national championship in a row.
3. Clemson dynasty? Fourth playoff in a row?
Next fall could be the fourth year in a row that the Tigers make the college football playoffs, having won it all in 2017.
Entering this season, the Tigers seemed to have a lot of question marks, having lost star players at quarterback, running back, wide receiver, linebacker and the defensive backfield.
All they did, in response to those questions, was land the No. 1 seed in the ongoing playoffs. (The Tigers play Monday.)
4. Who will own South Carolina’s energy future?
Beyond what customers’ rates will be post-nuclear debacle, who will own South Carolina’s utilities is very much in question in 2018.
Gov. Henry McMaster wants to sell the state-owned Santee Cooper utility and would-be buyers have lined up. The idea of selling Santee Cooper is not new; then-Gov. Mark Sanford suggested it more than a decade ago. However, legislators – wary that Santee’s 1.7 million customers could face higher rates, post-sale – are likely to question whether this is the right time to hold a “fire sale” of the utility.
Meanwhile, investor-owned SCANA, whose stock is held by thousands of South Carolinians, has lost almost half its value since the V.C. Summer debacle. Normally, that would have other companies circling the utility with takeover bids.
The nuclear debacle perversely offers the Cayce-based utility a “poison pill” defense to any takeover. Who would want to buy SCANA, when its future income and its obligations for billions in nuclear-related debt – see item No. 1 – are unknown?
5. Trump, Take 2
The first year was rocky, and the second will be, too. And tens of thousands of South Carolinians could be directly affected.
About 6,400 undocumented residents of South Carolina, brought into the United States as children, depend on DACA to stay in the country. Another 80,000 S.C. children depend on the CHIP program for their health insurance.
The future of both is up in the air.
Meanwhile, South Carolinians – including U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley and former U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney – will continue to play key roles in the Trump administration. Others in the state’s overwhelmingly GOP congressional delegation will find themselves once again defending the bombastic president from special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s Russian-meddling probe.
6. A new governor
South Carolina’s accidental governor, Henry McMaster, celebrates one year in office later this month, having been elevated to governor from lieutenant governor when Trump named then-Gov. Haley to the U.N. post.
In 2018, however, McMaster, R-Richland, must win his own four-year term.
His first challenge will be June’s GOP primary. McMaster is favored to beat a handful of GOP challengers, including former Haley Cabinet member Catherine Templeton of Charleston.
If he does, he will have to face the Democratic nominee for governor – most likely state Rep. James Smith, D-Richland – next November.
Side note: This will be the first time S.C. candidates for governor and lieutenant governor will run as a team, as the candidates for president and vice president do.
7. USC and its new offensive coordinator
Will Muschamp’s Gamecocks have shown steady improvement, and on Monday have a chance to record their ninth win of the season.
To take another stride in 2018, however, USC’s offense must live up to its Jake Bentley-guided potential. Key question: Who will be USC’s new offensive coordinator, replacing the departed Kurt Roper?
8. The first S.C.-made Volvos
Three major manufacturing plants will begin production in South Carolina in 2018.
In the first quarter, Samsung is scheduled to open a manufacturing facility in Newberry County. The plant will produce home appliances. As of November, more than 350 workers have been hired. Samsung expects to hire 954 by 2020.
By October, Jushi USA plans to begin production at its fiberglass manufacturing plant in Richland County. The initial $300 million investment is expected to employ 400 workers at the county’s Shop Road industrial park. A second phase calls for building an identical plant that will add another 400 jobs.
Drew Walker, president of Jushi USA, said construction on the first plant is 40 percent completed. He expects a worker recruitment drive to begin in January and last about six months. Applicants should visit readysc.org and click on the Jushi logo.
Late in the year, the first Volvo S60 sedans are expected to roll off the assembly line at the company’s new Berkeley County plant. Volvo Car USA estimates the factory will employ up to 2,000 workers within 10 years. Employment eventually may reach 4,000.
9. Next shoe drops in the State House corruption probe
All ears will be on Richard Quinn’s much-anticipated testimony before the State Grand Jury in January. Special prosecutor David Pascoe promises GOP kingmaker Quinn has testimony that will expose other targets of his State House corruption probe.
Meanwhile, Quinn’s son – former state Rep. Rick Quinn, R-Lexington – faces sentencing, and three other current or former GOP legislators face trial.
The question? Having felled the “Quinndom,” how much higher in South Carolina’s political and business elite can Pascoe’s probe go?
10. Who will work for the state?
S.C. public-sector workers are underpaid compared to their peers, and thousands of those baby boomer workers are on the verge of retirement.
Who will replace them, particularly in South Carolina’s classrooms?
Legislators must come up with some answers – other than charging state and local workers more for their retirement.
One idea? Pay them more. But state workers seldom are a priority. The state tends to lurch from kick-the-can-down-the-road dilemmas like road repair, to disaster scenarios like hurricane relief, to debacles like the need for pension and utility regulatory reform.
11. USC spreads south
The University of South Carolina expects to break ground on one of the downtown Columbia school’s largest-ever construction projects.
Over the next few years, a Memphis, Tenn.-based developer will transform the dilapidated south side of USC’s campus into a 3,750-bed “Campus Village” student housing complex.
The effort starts next summer or fall with the demolition of the Cliff Apartments, just west of Bates House and Bates West. The $460 million project will be completed in three phases, with the first of the quad-styled residence halls opening in 2020.
12. Development not cooling
Downtown Columbia development is not cooling down anytime soon. 2018 promises more construction, more residents, more restaurants and more energy.
The BullStreet neighborhood is finally about to get more active, starting with the opening of Bone-In BBQ beside Spirit Communications Park, expected this spring. Construction soon will follow on townhouses, a senior living community and a church in the neighborhood.
Hundreds more college students also will move downtown with the opening of the six-story Empire apartments, taking shape now on Assembly Street across from the S.C. State House.
More apartments and, hopefully, Columbia’s first riverfront restaurant will come online with the completion of CanalSide construction late in the year.
And downtown’s growth will spill over to West Columbia, where the fast-rising Brookland development is changing the downtown skyline from the west bank of the Congaree, and to the North Main Street corridor, where several new restaurants and businesses are anticipated in an area with lots more room to grow.