It’s not hard to recall divisive times between South Carolina governors and the Legislature. Gov. Mark Sanford brought a pig into the Statehouse to make a point about “pork-barrel” spending. Gov. Nikki Haley and the GOP majority in both houses had high-profile battles over vetoes and more.
Less the avowed outsider – and in fact a veteran government insider – Republican Gov. Henry McMaster is less confrontational with lawmakers. And if the 2019 legislative session, McMaster’s first as an elected governor, is the model, the chief executive and legislators appear to be charting a cooperative course.
This past week, McMaster vetoed just 28 items worth $41 million from South Carolina’s $9 billion budget for 2019-20. And it does not appear lawmakers will return to Columbia this year in an attempt to override the governor.
In his veto message, McMaster had praise for the General Assembly, citing a "new spirit of communication, cooperation and collaboration."
Lawmakers echoed the Republican governor's feelings. As reported by The Associated Press, House Speaker Jay Lucas said after the 2019 session ended that the relationship with McMaster was "far superior" than those with the other three governors with whom he has served.
"Gov. McMaster has been an absolute delight to work with," said Lucas, a Republican from Hartsville.
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The budget upon which the governor and lawmakers generally agree fulfills some pledges made by the state’s leaders:
• Starting pay for teachers in the state will jump to $35,000 a year and teacher salaries will be raised at minimum 4%.
• State employees will get a one-time bonus of $600 plus nearly 32,000 state employees will get a 2% pay raise.
• Judges’ salaries will be increased 33%.
But it appears 2019 will come to an end without lawmakers moving forward on a major education reform package approved by the House and being pushed by the governor, who has called on the General Assembly to return to Columbia before January to complete work on it.
The legislation is pending in the Senate, where leaders appear inclined to consider it when they return in January.
So McMaster is right: There is work to do on important matters. Whether during 2019 or in 2020, a spirit of cooperation and compromise will go a long way toward getting it done.