Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer publicly launched his bid for governor Monday, saying that South Carolina must get more creative about funding essential services and must stop burdening businesses.
The Republican cited his business background and said job creation must be the top priority. Though known to be in the race to replace term-limited Gov. Mark Sanford, Bauer had not formally launched his campaign. He crisscrossed the state Monday and part of today, visiting 15 stops.
"We know that a lot of revenues that are collected here, never come back here. The governor has to respect ... the fact that an area that garners so much in the form of taxes, we have to give a good portion of that back," the 41-year-old said at the Crown Reef Resort in Myrtle Beach, his seventh stop of the day, which started at a restaurant in Spartanburg before he served breakfast at his home in Greer.
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They were among 15 stops planned in a 24-hour fly-around set to end in Columbia today so he could preside over the Senate. He said the no-sleep schedule demonstrates the pace he would keep as governor in recruiting jobs.
"You'll probably see me less than any governor in the history of this state," said Bauer, a self-described workaholic known for nonstop campaigning.
Bauer faces Attorney General Henry McMaster, U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett and state Rep. Nikki Haley in the June 8 primary. Democrats vying for their party's nomination are state Sens. Robert Ford of Charleston and Vincent Sheheen of Camden, and state Superintendent Jim Rex.
Bauer said lawmakers must better prioritize spending as the revenues continue to worsen. He called it ridiculous for legislators to even discuss furloughing teachers. The House passed a $5 billion budget last week that would allow districts to require teachers take five days off without pay to save jobs, though layoffs are expected regardless. The idea initially passed a subcommittee as a requirement.
"Look, before I ever furloughed a teacher, I'd shut down every state park. It's going to have to be about priorities and what's most important in government," Bauer said.
He said the state must spend more on roads and bridges, but without increasing the gas tax. He suggested leasing rest areas to private companies, and putting that upkeep money toward road construction. He also suggested allowing companies to put their names on state parks, so "they would take up the tab to keep our state parks open, so taxpayers wouldn't have that burden anymore."
He said he supports raising the state's lowest-in-the-nation cigarette tax by 50 cents and - as Sanford has long advocated without success - using the revenue to reduce income taxes.
Responding to an audience question, Bauer said he also supports eliminating income and business taxes and replacing them with a higher sales tax.
"I like the consumption-based tax because everybody pays - people gaming the system, out-of-staters, tourists, everybody pays, not just the working folks," he said.
He blasted the health care overhaul approved by Democrats in Congress on Sunday as an example of government putting a bigger burden on businesses, which he said will discourage innovation and hamper job growth.
"Whoever is the next governor will have to adamantly fight against the federal government," Bauer said, though he stopped short of advocating suing, as McMaster has promised to do over health care. "I don't have a legal background. I would like to get some people much more knowledgeable to say what we can do."
Gira Patel, CEO of Gira Steel, said she's supporting Bauer because she knows his work ethic. She said she met Bauer as a college student in 1985, when he stocked her Irmo convenience store with T-shirts for his college apparel business.
"I want him to see how small businesses are struggling right now," she said about hosting his stop, noting she is down to 32 employees after laying off a dozen due to the lack of construction.
Billy Stanick, owner of Stanick Sheet Metal & Roofing in Irmo, said he's supported Bauer since he unexpectedly showed up on a job site in 1996 to seek support for his first House race. "I knew he had to be a hard worker to come up on a roof in the rain," said the 69-year-old.
The more than 50 attendees at Gira included John Leonhardt Sr., 81, of Columbia, the passenger who survived a fiery single-engine plane crash with Bauer piloting in May 2006, a month before the primary for his re-election. Leonhardt, also a pilot, said he endured five operations on his leg, but still flies frequently.
Bauer was not piloting the plane for his fly-around.
Leonhardt said he blames the maintenance company that overhauled the engine. Court records show that a federal administrative law judge in June fined the company for returning the plane with incorrect bolts.
"I support him 100 percent," Leonhardt said.
Staff reporter Claudia Lauer contributed to this report.