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Haley acknowledges late tax payments, blasts Sheheen on unemployment trust fund

Republican gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley, left, receives words of encouragement from Jocelyn Staigar, president of the Republican Women of Southern Beaufort County, on Tuesday following Haley's campaign appearance at Sun City. The event was sponsored by the Republicans of Sun City Hilton Head.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley, left, receives words of encouragement from Jocelyn Staigar, president of the Republican Women of Southern Beaufort County, on Tuesday following Haley's campaign appearance at Sun City. The event was sponsored by the Republicans of Sun City Hilton Head.

Nikki Haley acknowledged making late tax payments, but the Republican gubernatorial candidate said her financial problems didn't cost the state nearly as much as her opponent's inattention.

At campaign stops in Beaufort County Tuesday, Haley blamed her Democratic opponent, Vincent Sheheen, for failing to prevent the state's unemployment trust fund from going broke. She said the state senator was warned of the problem in a 2008 meeting but didn't act.

"He can complain about my $200 here or my $50 late fee on my property taxes; he just cost the businesses of this state millions of dollars by not doing something about (the bankruptcy)," Haley said at a rally at Sun City Hilton Head.

Haley also made campaign stops in Beaufort and on Hilton Head Island, and she stumped in Columbia earlier in the day.

Sheheen served on a committee of eight legislators that screened Employment Security Commission candidates. In April 2008, a commissioner warned that unemployment payouts were outpacing collections from employers.

The state has borrowed nearly $887 million from the federal government to continue the payouts, most recently in April. According to the agency, it might have to borrow again as early as next month.

South Carolina is among dozens of states that have borrowed money amid the recession to cover benefits.

In December 2008, as Gov. Mark Sanford faced a deadline to apply for a loan -- or face tens of thousands of residents cut off from benefits -- the Republican governor faulted GOP legislative leaders, saying they'd known of the situation for months.

According to a Legislative Audit Council report, commissioners began meeting with legislative leaders on the subject in 2006.

Sheheen dismissed Haley's accusation Tuesday and also said he would support Haley's proposal to require drug tests to receive unemployment benefits if Haley agreed candidates for public office must pay their taxes on time.

Haley family tax records show they filed or paid income and property taxes late several times in the past six years, accruing thousands in penalties and interest.

Haley said her late tax payments, the focus of Sheheen's recent attacks, are "not different from a lot of businesses and a lot of people in South Carolina."

More than 400 Sun City residents, many hailing from the community's Republican club, enthusiastically welcomed Haley, who would become the state's first female chief executive if elected. They applauded her stances on eliminating a corporate and small-business income tax, pushing for transparency in government by recording votes and reforming the state's tax code.

Club president Sherri Zedd said Haley's positions on spending cuts and revamping of public-school funding resonated with Sun City residents.

"She is on the same side as me and the same side as the club," Zedd said.

Arthur Broska, who identified himself as a tea party member, said while his organization is not endorsing a candidate, he would vote for Haley because he believes she will fight for the people.

Others in attendance were more skeptical, however.Norm Solon, who said he is an independent, wondered how Haley would pay for infrastructure improvements and other initiatives by cutting spending along with taxes.

He also wasn't sold on her defense of her late tax payments.

"She's an accountant and she belittles the fact that she mistook a hundred dollars here or a hundred dollars there," he said. "You want an accountant like that for governor?"

The Associated Press and The (Columbia) State newspaper contributed to this report.

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