Republican gubernatorial nominee Nikki Haley touted her plan to make South Carolina friendlier to businesses, telling a Rock Hill audience Monday night she would eliminate corporate income taxes and put more business people in charge of state agencies.
In her first visit since winning the GOP nomination, Haley said South Carolina must learn to solve its own problems without looking to Washington, D.C., for help.
"We've never seen a time when the federal government has been more intrusive than they are right now," Haley told about 450 supporters at the Magnolia Room at Laurel Creek.
Democratic nominee Vincent Sheheen criticized Haley's economic plan as a continuation of failed policies under Gov. Mark Sanford. Eliminating corporate income taxes, Sheheen said, would slightly benefit major companies but do nothing to help small businesses.
"After eight years of rising unemployment, we need a governor who really understands economic development," Sheheen said in a statement to The Herald.
South Carolina collected $147 million in corporate income tax during the budget year that ended June 30, according to the Board of Economic Advisors. The tax is 2.7 percent of the state's $5.5 billion gross revenues.
The S.C. House approved eliminating the tax over a 10-year period, but the S.C. Senate removed the proposal because of concerns about declining revenue.
"If we become a no-corporate-income-tax state, we will become a magnet for companies," Haley said.
Haley said she would work more aggressively than Sanford to attract businesses to S.C. ports. Georgia has "totally had their way with us," she said, in part because the governor makes frequent visits to state ports to understand needs.
"We had a governor who wasn't necessarily there," Haley said of South Carolina. "That wasn't his thing."
Haley pledged to appoint more private sector executives to state agencies that regulate everything from the environment to motor vehicles.
"When we put business people in those agencies, who know what it's like to be on the other side, it will be a beautiful thing," she said.
State Rep. Ralph Norman presented Haley with a check for $34,300 based on proceeds from the event. Tickets cost $35, though many supporters paid $250 for one-on-one time and photos with Haley.
Until a few months ago, Haley was a little-known state representative from Lexington County. She defeated three men in the June GOP primary, fueled by a timely endorsement from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and backing from tea party organizers.
Several admirers asked Haley to autograph copies of the July issue of Newsweek magazine that featured her on the cover.
"She's an inspiration," said Pat Krewson, a 77-year-old lifelong Republican from Lake Wylie. "It's time we had more women, especially qualified women like her. She's everything we've been looking for."
View video of The Herald's one-on-one interview with Haley here.