- Associated Press - Saturday, May 2, 2015

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Gov. Nikki Haley has launched a new offensive against state lawmakers, using the podium at the South Carolina Republican Party Convention to blast GOP lawmakers as insufficiently conservative on taxes, debt and other issues.

Her specific complaints were last year’s failed proposal for a legislative pay raise and this year’s pitch for a $500 million bond issue for public projects, along with pending proposals to raise gas taxes to pay for road construction. Haley said all three pursuits violate Republican principles.

“At a time when presidential candidates are going to be coming through South Carolina, how do we hold our head up when all year, I’ve been fighting with my own Republicans,” she said. “I’ve been fighting my own people. These are the people who are supposed to be with me. These are the people who are supposed to be moving South Carolina forward, and every day I’ve been fighting my own Republicans.”

Delegates cheered her address, but some lawmakers in attendance were visibly perturbed during the speech.

Afterward, one Republican House leader said he didn’t want to respond in kind. “The mudslinging is not who I am, so it’s better for me not to say anything that adds to the divide,” said Assistant Majority Whip Samuel Rivers Jr., who represents parts of Berkeley and Charleston counties.

State Republican Chairman Matt Moore said he was not aware of the content of Haley’s speech. He disputed that the relationship between the governor and lawmakers is something negative for the party. “I think the governor very clearly laid down some markers,” Moore said. “I don’t think it’s personal, as some people want to make it.”

Haley, who cruised to a second term last year, has feuded with the legislature before, much like her predecessor, Mark Sanford. But her speech Saturday marked a new level of aggressiveness in trying to use her public profile to pressure lawmakers, and it stood out at a party convention that otherwise had a rollicking atmosphere as Republicans celebrated their total takeover of state government and heard from multiple 2016 presidential hopefuls.

Haley successfully blocked a $12,000 legislative pay raise last year. She declared victory Saturday on quashing a bond issue proposal, as well. On transportation, lawmakers and the administration still are debating tax policies to pay for road improvements. Haley has said she would back a gas tax hike alongside a corresponding income tax cut, with resulting revenues paying for infrastructure. Haley says the plans that legislative leaders have pushed contain too much in new gas taxes and not enough in tax cuts.

Haley singled out 17 senators and representatives and lawmakers who she said voted with her on all three issues. She didn’t name any other Republican lawmakers, but noted that the GOP holds 105 seats combined in the two chambers.

She told the convention that she’s made the same pitch in private meetings with the House Republican Caucus and Senate Republican Caucus, but even in recounting those meetings, she chastised her fellow elected officials. “I like the people who are in the Legislature. They’re good people. They’re my friends,” she said. “I told them what it meant to be Republican. I told them what I knew you wanted from us. I told them we were not a party that looked after our own pay raises. We are not a party that raised debt. We are not a party that raised taxes.”

An Associated Press analysis earlier this year found that Haley, despite her criticism of the bond deal, has used her power on the state’s Budget and Control Board to approve bond debt to pay for small projects such as plumbing upgrades and roof repair. That would seem to violate her statements that debt should be used only for major capital investments.

Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey on Saturday stood by Haley’s remarks. He said Haley’s approval of other debt involved projects only at college campuses, with the debt supported by future tuition payments. That, he said, is more fiscally responsible debt than general obligation bonds backed only by general state tax revenue.

Rivers, the House leader who was not among the 17 lawmakers Haley praised, said, “We want our governor to succeed. … Until we can work together - the House, the Senate and the governor - we won’t get anything done.”

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