Gov. Nikki Haley said she will propose plans to reduce state worker health care and retirement benefits, adding South Carolina to the list of states considering trimming public employee compensation.
Haley's comments came at a town hall Thursday meeting in her political home of Lexington, the first in a series of six meetings statewide.
Haley took the opportunity to announce a new target: state employee benefits.
Retirees will get their promised benefits, she said, but for new workers, "we're going to have to make some changes."
Haley declined to say specifically what she would recommend, but she said the state needed to begin tackling the $14 billion in unfunded retirement benefits due workers.
"There is no way we can continue to put our head in the sand," she said.
"The current government employees, we're going to have to look at what we can do. Everybody else is having to sacrifice and cut and unfortunately government employees are going to have to be part of that mix."
State workers have endured layoffs, furloughs and no pay raises since the recession began hitting state revenues in 2008.
Lawmakers and retirees worked together to restructure retirement benefits in 2009 in an effort to improve the retirement system's finances.
Haley used the forum to lay out her early successes, including a handful of job announcements, the House-approved restructuring legislation and a Senate-approved bill allowing budget-balancing cuts to doctors and hospitals.
But the same day, the governor unveiled a legislative report card, she also urged the crowd of more than 200 to turn up the heat on the state Senate and urge them to support her version of a roll call voting bill.
Haley said she will hold a second series of meetings once the legislative session ends.
"My job is to let you know when they're doing the right thing," Haley said.
"My job is to let you know when we need a push to make it go faster."
Haley also announced her office will present a comprehensive tax reform plan to lawmakers by this summer.
"It's my job to present them a plan," she said.
Questioners objected to a proposed anti-illegal immigration bill modeled after an Arizona law that allows police to question suspected illegal immigrants.
Haley did not flinch in her support of the bill and said she would sign it if passed.
One questioner advocated drug testing those receiving Medicaid, the state-run health insurance plan for the poor and disabled.
The idea got a round of applause, and Haley gave the man a thumbs-up and restated her plan to ensure Medicaid dollars are spent as efficiently as possible.