The following is Governor Henry McMaster’s 2023 Inaugural Address given today at The Statehouse in Columbia:
Ladies and gentlemen, I am happy to welcome you to your magnificent State House on another beautiful South Carolina day. Your presence expresses your confidence in our bright future. The people of our great state have given me the honor and privilege of serving as your governor for another four years. My family and I thank you.
If we were at the famous Darlington raceway, these early days of 2023 would be the moment we hold our breath just before the green flag is dropped. Much history has been made here, and we are about to make some more.
I have in my office a framed drawing of the City of Charleston, dated 1739, accompanied by a report inscribed upon it and addressed to “his Excellency James Glen Esq. Capt. General, Governor, & Commander in Chief in and over his Majesty’s province of South Carolina, and Vice Admiral within the same” and “humbly inscrib’d by his much Obliged humble Servant B. Roberts.” It was “Published according to Act of Parliament by B. Roberts & W.H. Toms, June 9, 1739.”
It reads, in part: “CHARLES-TOWN the METROPOLIS of the Province of South Carolina is pleasantly situated between Cooper &Ashley Rivers… The Climate of Carolina… is extremely agreeable & wholesome &… may well be looked upon as the most temperate part of the habitable Earth… (I)t is the fairest & most fruitful Province belonging to Great Britain… Its Silk is preferable to any, & its Rice is the best in the world. … So that it is no wonder of Charles Town… be now a very great and flourishing Town, adorned with handsome & commodious buildings… amongst which the Church of St. Phillip, may justly be reckoned the finest structure in America. … (T)his Town and Province may justly be esteemed the most flourishing of any of His Majesty’s Dominions in America.”
I believe that Mr. B. Roberts’ estimation of the remarkable nature of South Carolina was accurate. It was shared by the French and Spanish explorers and their sovereigns before him, and by the Native Americans before them. And I believe it still is true today, with the notable exception that South Carolina no longer belongs to King George, but to us.
Unmentioned but implicit in the success observed by Mr. B. Roberts is the character, nature and circumstances of the inhabitants of the Province of South Carolina, that is, the people. According to the historian Walter Edgar, our early inhabitants had arrived at different times under a variety of conditions from eight European countries, as many as twenty-five West African cultures, today comprising four countries, and over twenty-five Native American nations, bearing such familiar names as Congaree, Combahee, Kiawah, Catawba, Waccamaw, Pee Dee and Edisto.
Through those years and centuries long ago up to our living memories, our people have seen it all: hurricanes, fires, floods, tornados, earthquakes, piracy, Indian Wars, indentured servitude, slavery, a Revolutionary War, a Civil War, World Wars and all the others. No state has a more fascinating, momentous history than our own. And through it all – and perhaps because of it – we have grown, endured and prospered. The greatest asset we have is each other – the people – the great, unique people of South Carolina.
Today, when business leaders from around the world measure the assets of our state, they remark on our people – the character and nature of the people themselves. Visitors do the same. They sense their loyalty, patriotism, kindness and steadfastness. They see the natural paradise in which we work and live. They see the historic confluence of our Judeo-Christian and military traditions. And they like what they see, sometimes more clearly than we do ourselves.
For these reasons and more, our economy is flourishing and opportunities abound. I view our foundations for great prosperity and happiness as resting on three pillars: economic strength, education and our natural environment.
Today our economy is as strong as it has ever been in modern times. South Carolina’s booming economy has once again created a record budget surplus. So, it should come as no surprise that 2022 was the most successful year for economic development in our state’s history. In fact, we broke the record for the largest economic development project announcement – not once, but twice – in the same year. State government is in superior fiscal shape, we have the largest rainy day reserve fund balance and lowest amount of debt than at any other time in recent memory.
Until recently, South Carolina had the highest personal income tax rate in the southeast and the 12th highest in the nation. No more. Last year, I was honored to sign into law the largest income tax cut in state history.
We have made – and will continue to make – transformative investments in our state’s infrastructure. From widening interstates, repairing, and replacing roads, bridges, and highways – to over a billion and a half dollars for new water, sewer and stormwater in our rural communities – we are setting our state on an accelerated path to compete globally for new jobs and future investment. We dredged our Charleston Harbor to fifty-two feet, the deepest on the Atlantic coast and able to handle the biggest ships “any day, any time, any tide.”
We relied on common sense and the Constitution during the pandemic, and while other states faltered, we flew, with some of our businesses having their best years ever.
So, what is our plan?
As once all roads led to Rome, today all quests for prosperity lead to education. Education has been described as a footrace in which the baton of knowledge is passed from one generation to the next. The historian Barbara Tuchman wrote: “Books are the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill. Without books, the development of civilization would have been impossible.”
We must do whatever it takes to see that every child in our state has the opportunity to receive an excellent education. Albert Einstein said, “A problem can never be solved by thinking on the same level that produced it.” He was right; we must think big and be bold, and we will.
Standing here four years ago, I said “Being perceived as weak in education is not good. But, being perceived as not committed to fixing it is disastrous.”
Six years ago, the minimum starting salary of a teacher in South Carolina was $30,113. Today, it is $40,000. My goal by 2026 is that we have a minimum starting salary of at least $50,000. Until last year, South Carolina’s system for funding K-12 education was archaic and confusing, a piecemeal system consisting of 29 separate line-item appropriations. Now, a consolidated formula makes sure that funding follows the child and provides transparency for parents.
To increase the percentage of children who enter our public schools ready to learn, we expanded full-day four-year-old kindergarten to all at-risk children in the state. Today, we are serving 16,103 children in the program, which is an all-time high. And we have placed an armed, certified school resource officer – an SRO – in 90% of our state’s public schools. We will not stop until there is an officer in every school, in every county, all day, every day.
We know that access to an affordable degree or skilled trade certificate is essential to ensure that our state has the trained and educated workforce to compete for jobs and investment in the future. To that end, we have frozen college tuition for four straight years and provided a record amount of financial aid and scholarships to students in need. To address the historic labor shortage, our workforce scholarships have allowed over 10,000 South Carolinians to earn an industry credential in high-demand careers like manufacturing, healthcare, computer science, information technology, transportation, logistics, and construction.
Remember: Major businesses in the United States and abroad have clearly demonstrated their desire to bring their fortunes and facilities to South Carolina and to employ our people.
They are “putting their money where our people are.”What we must do now is double down. We must continue investing in our people to ensure that they are prepared to reap the benefits of our future prosperity.
This brings us to the third pillar of our prosperity: our natural and cultural heritage.
Few states, if any, can match the natural beauty, bounty and variety of South Carolina, from the mountains to the sea. And few can match the elegance and craftsmanship of the historic homes, churches, synagogues and other structures found in our land, including Beaufort, Charleston, Georgetown and Camden, built during the times when Mother Nature herself was the fount of our prosperity.
I truly believe that if we cannot find peace and comfort in the pine forests and tidal creeks of South Carolina, we’ll just have to wait until we get to Heaven.
Numerous scholars recognize that the Revolutionary War was won here, with over two hundred battles and skirmishes in Britain’s unsuccessful southern campaign, notably the Battles of Kings Mountain and Cowpens. Many historical sites still need markers today, including the camp of General Francis Marion and his patriots in the Pee Dee swamps; the British could not find it and neither can we. Our Gullah-Geechee culture in the low country survives as a living link to our past. Our magnificent live oaks have seen more history than any of us. This natural and cultural heritage is an integral part of our quality of life.
It is why we stay here, and why others come, many as tourists, some as investors. And with them comes money, sometimes millions, even billions, and from that come jobs and careers which, in turn produce funds for schools and educations, which in turn produce a deep appreciation of our natural and cultural heritage. As so the cycle goes, ’round and ’round, up and up.
We recently created a new cabinet agency, the Office of Resilience, which adopted findings of our Floodwater Commission. Its purposes include measuring our strengths and weaknesses concerning flooding, erosion and the conditions of our rivers, coast and barrier islands; and to mitigate, accommodate and respond to flooding; and also to coordinate efforts of economic and natural resilience with governmental and non-governmental entities.
Vigorous economic growth and the preservation of our shared natural heritage and environment are not opposing objectives which must be balanced as in a competition, one against the other. Instead, they are complementary, intertwined, and inseparable, each dependent on the other. Each can be accomplished to the fullest if we plan now and be bold.
The question today is: Will anyone recognize South Carolina in 100 years? Will we allow our state’s culturally and environmentally significant structures, monuments, lands, islands, and waterways to be lost forever – to over-development, mismanagement, flooding, erosion or from storm damage?
Or will we preserve and protect our history and our environment, and the public’s access to them? This is our moment to act, while we still can. And of course, to preserve these great resources and to realize our full economic and educational potentials, the first duty of government is to keep South Carolinians safe.
To do that we must maintain a robust law enforcement presence – and properly “fund the police” – while closing the revolving door for career criminals – keeping them behind bars and not out on bail. And this includes stronger laws to keep illegal guns out of the hands of criminals and juveniles.
We must also ensure that the public has confidence in whom and how all our judges are selected – by making the processes more transparent and accountable; so that every South Carolinian, born and unborn, may enjoy life, liberty and happiness.
In closing, to the members of the General Assembly: The State of South Carolina is richly blessed with a hardworking and talented people. I have faith in our people, and I have faith in those whom they have elected to represent them in this State House.
Let us continue our successful partnership, one that has been based on communication, collaboration, and cooperation, and let us set our State on a course that will provide the opportunity for prosperity, success, and happiness for generations of South Carolinians.
The best is yet to come.
May God continue to bless America, and our Great State of South Carolina.
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