In unveiling his fiscal 2022-23 state budget this week, Gov. Henry McMaster proposed using $660 million in federal coronavirus-relief money to begin construction of Interstate 73 toward Myrtle Beach and widening I-26 between Columbia and Charleston.

McMaster in a letter Monday to lawmakers contended that the federal money combined with nearly $600 million in state surplus funds would allow the S.C. Department of Transportation to “accelerate construction, expansion, or improvements to our State-owned roads, bridges, highways, and interstates.”

Besides the I-73 and I-26 projects, which McMaster publicly announced last year and included in his state budget summary, the governor in his letter Monday also noted widening I-95 in the Lowcountry and additional lane widening of I-85 in the Upstate.

Multimillionaire businessman John Warren has opted not to challenge South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster to a rematch of their 2018 GOP primary face-off.

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Multimillionaire businessman John Warren has opted not to challenge South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster to a rematch of their 2018 GOP primary face-off, saying Thursday he would sit out this year's election — but not ruling out a future bid.

“Right now, given my responsibilities as CEO, I do not plan to seek public office in 2022,” Warren said on Twitter, saying he'd be placing emphasis on the Bitcoin company he launched last year.

There had been speculation that Warren, 42, would mount a redo of 2018, when the businessman leveraged more than $3 million of his own money to fund his challenge of McMaster, whom he portrayed as part of an ineffective establishment. Even though he’d entered just months before the race, Warren's effort catapulted him from political anonymity to second-place finisher in a four-way GOP primary, forcing McMaster to a runoff.

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New S.C. Senate president Thomas Alexander reported a total of more than $850,000 in income over a 10-year period from Upstate public agencies through his office supply business, The Nerve found in a review of his annual income-disclosure records.

No one has accused the longtime Oconee County Republican of any wrongdoing. But, as The Nerve previously has revealed, some lawmakers over the years have made a lot of money off government agencies in their home districts.

And when Alexander dons the traditional purple robe to preside Tuesday over the start of the regular legislative session of the 46-member Senate, he’ll receive more state pay – plus new appointment powers – that come with the title of president.

Alexander, 65, who served in the S.C. House from 1987-94 before becoming a senator in 1994, was elected the Senate president following the death in November of longtime Senate Finance Committee chairman Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence. Then-Senate president Harvey Peeler, R-Cherokee, resigned his position to become the Finance Committee chairman, and Alexander was elected by his Senate colleagues as president.

More than 1,300 Santee Cooper workers last year received “incentive” bonuses totaling $5 million, with outgoing president and CEO Mark Bonsall getting a $242,500 bonus on top of his $1.1 million base salary, records show.

All but 58 of the 1,383 employees of the state-owned utility who were making an annual salary of at least $50,000 as of Nov. 5 received the “incentive pay” last year, which averaged $3,774 per eligible worker, according to The Nerve’s review of records recently provided by the utility under the S.C. Freedom of Information Act.

Annual salaries combined with “incentive pay” made up total “cash compensation” for the year, utility records show.

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- On December 23, a federal court granted Life Legal's motion to "enjoin" or block enforcement of a California law that criminalizes First Amendment activity outside most abortion clinics.

The law, SB 742, makes it illegal to approach a person or occupied vehicle within 30 feet of the entrance to a "vaccination site" for the purpose of obstructing, injuring, harassing, intimidating, or interfering with that person. A "vaccination site" is defined as a location offering any type of vaccine services, which includes Planned Parenthood and other abortion facilities that dispense Gardasil and other STD vaccines.

We sued California Attorney General Rob Bonta as soon as the law was passed on behalf of pro-life sidewalk counselors who regularly speak with women entering "vaccination site" abortion clinics, and who provide literature and display signs offering help with abortion alternatives – all activities that could be illegal under the new law.

The S.C. Department of Transportation wants approval to spend about $139 million more in state gas-tax-hike money for next fiscal year, though the agency as of October was sitting on a $955 million cash surplus generated from the revenues.

DOT’s annual budget request, submitted by agency head Christy Hall to the state Department of Administration, also designates $360 million in federal coronavirus-relief funding to speed up widening of Interstate 26 between Columbia and Charleston, plus earmarks another $300 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds and state surplus dollars to help construct Interstate 73 from I-95 to U.S. 501.

"This is a tragic day for parents, girls, and unborn babies in Illinois and the entire Midwest", says Kevin Grillot, Director of the March for Life Chicago.

“By signing the repeal of the Parental Notification of Abortion Act, Governor Pritzker acted in opposition to 72% of Illinois residents who wanted to keep this commonsense law in place. Illinois is now the only state in the Midwest that does not have Parental Notification in place, an open invitation to out-of-state minors to pursue abortions in Illinois. This repeal strips parents of their rights to be involved in the medical care of their daughters and leaves girls increasingly vulnerable to sexual traffickers. ”

Four senator-lawyers who, or their law firms, received workers’ compensation fees last year are co-sponsoring a bill that would allow employees to file workers’ compensation claims involving COVID-19 vaccines.

Three of the lawmakers sit on a Senate committee that will consider the bill and also screens candidates for the seven-member Workers’ Compensation Commission (WCC), which renders decisions and approves attorney fees in workers’ compensation cases.

State ethics law generally bans lawmakers and other politicians from using their office to financially benefit themselves, family members or business associates, though legislators over the years have relied on a legal loophole to push bills that pose potential conflicts of interest.

The S.C. Department of Commerce wants $100 million more in state funding for next fiscal year – which represents nearly 80% of its entire current budget – for an unspecified “infrastructure” program.

“South Carolina does not have a funding mechanism to address significant needs that are necessary for the state to continue and capitalize on its economic development success,”  according to Commerce’s formal budget request submitted recently by new agency head Harry Lightsey to the state Department of Administration. “Currently the state addresses the need to modernize or construct new infrastructure based on population density or individual economic development projects.”

A legislatively controlled committee that screens judges ruled last week that a longtime circuit court judge was no longer qualified to serve, though the general public wasn’t informed afterward about its decision.

When it comes to secrecy surrounding how judges are nominated in South Carolina, it’s business as usual for the six-legislator, 10-member Judicial Merit Selection Commission (JMSC).

The JMSC on Dec. 1 voted not to qualify Horry County circuit judge Steven John, who has been on the bench since 2001, Erin Crawford, the JMSC’s chief attorney, confirmed Monday when contacted by The Nerve. In an email response, she said the commission in “open session” voted 9-0 to find John unqualified – an unusual action involving a veteran, sitting judge.

In a repeat of last year, the S.C. Judicial Department is resisting The Nerve’s request to reveal the current pay of its employees, including dozens of judges making six-figure salaries.

Meanwhile, Supreme Court Chief Justice Donald Beatty, the administrative head of the state court system, wants nearly $9 million more in general funds for next fiscal year, which starts July 1, to cover 76 full-time-equivalent (FTE) administrative support positions that have been funded with court fines and fees, according to the agency’s annual budget request submitted to the S.C. Department of Administration.

If approved, that amount would be in addition to $7 million in general funds that lawmakers approved for this fiscal year to cover 92 other FTE administrative support positions that had been funded with court fines and fees, according to the budget request.

S.C. lawmakers would receive an annual $18,000 pay hike under a House proposal, with the bill’s sponsor contending that legislators deserve the raise.

“This is not a part-time job,” Rep. Wendell Gilliard, D-Charleston, a former Charleston City Council member who was first elected to the S.C. House in 2008, told The Nerve when contacted Tuesday. “What these lawmakers do in South Carolina should be considered a full-time job, and then when you look at the last pay increase that we had, we’re talking years.”

Gilliard’s bill, which was prefiled last month, would raise lawmakers’ current $1,000 monthly “in-district” payments by $1,500, or 150%, to $2,500 per month. On a yearly basis, the total payments would jump from $12,000 to $30,000.

Over a week ago, a legislatively controlled committee quietly approved five-figure salary hikes for six state agency heads, including increases for two university presidents whose total annual compensation is much more than their state pay.

Medical University of South Carolina president David Cole received a $42,308, or 13.5%, raise from the state Agency Head Salary Commission (AHSC), bringing his state salary to $354,941, according to information from MUSC and the State Fiscal Accountability Authority (SFAA), an agency that provides administrative support to the AHSC.

The AHSC also approved a $23,009, or 10.6%, raise for Lander University president Richard Cosentino, bringing his state salary to $238,520, records show. His total compensation last year was at least $377,830, which besides his state salary included $122,319 from the university’s private fundraising arm and a $40,000 “housing supplement” from the university, according to his annual income-disclosure statement filed with the State Ethics Commission.

Nearly half of South Carolina’s 46 counties were charging annual road maintenance fees as of last December, records show, though the state’s top court earlier this year in a Greenville County case ruled that its fee was unlawful.

Whether taxpayers will receive any refunds remains to be seen. Class action lawsuits seeking multimillion-dollar refunds have been filed in at least seven counties – Aiken, Beaufort, Georgetown, Greenville, Horry, Richland and Sumter – since the June court ruling, which did not order refunds in the Greenville County case.

Most of the suits cite a state law that would allow the plaintiffs, if successful, to be awarded 10 times the amount of the collected road fees, The Nerve’s review found.

Lawmakers just can’t resist trying to exert more power over another branch of government.

Reps. John King, D-York; Annie McDaniel, D-Fairfield; and Wendy Brawley, D-Richland, prefiled a bill last week that would require separate majorities in the 124-member House and 46-member Senate to give final approval to any pay raises for state agency heads recommended by a legislatively controlled committee.

The Agency Head Salary Commission (AHSC), which includes eight lawmakers, approves state salaries for the heads of at least 90 agencies, including public colleges, according to the State Fiscal Accountability Authority (SFAA), an agency that provides administrative support to the AHSC.

When it comes to South Carolina history, some state officials might need a refresher course.

S.C. taxpayers are on the hook for about $1.5 million this fiscal year and possibly could shell out as much as nearly $10 million in fiscal 2022-23 for a legislatively controlled committee created in 2018 to recognize the 250th anniversary of the American Revolution – which, ironically, started largely over taxation of the colonists.

The S.C. Department of Archives and History (SCDAH) recently has been advertising for an executive director for the “South Carolina American Revolution Sestercentennial (250th anniversary) Commission,” at an annual state salary ranging from $90,000 to $100,000, records show. In comparison, SCDAH director Eric Emerson makes $100,821 yearly, according to the state salary database.