Beaufort News

Haley pitches agenda, pledges to lower unemployment, at Bluffton town hall meeting

Gov. Nikki Haley addresses a crowd during a town hall meeting Tuesday evening at Bluffton High School.
Gov. Nikki Haley addresses a crowd during a town hall meeting Tuesday evening at Bluffton High School. Sarah Welliver

S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley visited Bluffton High School on Tuesday to shake hands with residents, grade state legislators and pitch the public on her plans for next year.

Much of Haley's speech focused on the best way to grow the state economy and reduce South Carolina's 11.1 percent unemployment rate.

It's essential, she said, to lower the cost of doing business in South Carolina and to keep state bureaucrats in line.

"We've got to make sure that government stays out of the way," Haley said.

Heritage tournament director Steve Wilmot, who introduced Haley, thanked her for "tireless efforts and support" in finding a title sponsor for the event.

Roughly 200 people turned out to hear the governor speak, and many of them shared her agenda, if the reaction to applause lines about fighting unions and lowering taxes is any indicator.

"We need your support," Haley said after being asked about one of her proposals. "Because it only happens when you get loud."

Tax reform is a major plank in the governor's agenda. She suggested simplifying personal income tax by shifting from six tax brackets down to three, reducing the 10.5-percent manufacturing property tax and eliminating the corporate income tax.

The governor also discussed her view of the 2011 legislative session.

Last week, Haley unveiled "report cards" that grade state senators and representatives on key votes from this year. She said residents should use the grades as a communication tool to hold their delegates accountable.

The rubric gave A's to Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, and Rep. Shannon Erickson, R-Beaufort.

Two other Lowcountry legislators, Rep. Bill Herbkersman, R-Bluffton, and Rep. Andy Patrick, R-Hilton Head, received B's.

Sen. Clementa Pinckney, D-Ridgeland, was given an F.

Haley argued the report cards aren't partisan because legislators were graded on support for a set agenda, and they were told ahead of time which votes would be included.

Town-hall attendees asked to grade Haley's tenure as governor gave a mixed, but mostly positive, message.

Bluffton residents Kelly and Ann Graham said they were impressed by Haley's speaking ability but concerned about portions of her message.

"I understand that we need to bring industry and grow business in South Carolina," Kelly said. "I just don't see how we can justify lowering corporate taxes when we need so many dollars in education and in other parts of our budget."

Kelly said he would give the governor a B for her tenure thus far, while Ann suggested a C would be appropriate.

Katie Ryan, a senior at Bluffton High School, was more upbeat -- and simply thrilled to have the governor standing in her school's auditorium a few feet away.

"I would say an A," Ryan said. "She's one of my role models."

Follow reporter Kyle Peterson at twitter.com/EyeOnBeaufortCo.

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