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Lawmakers meet the public at annual breakfast

Posted: March 20, 2015 2:35 p.m.
Updated: March 23, 2015 1:00 a.m.
Gary Phillips/C-I

State Rep. Laurie Slade Funderburk and State Sen. Thomas McElveen fielded questions Friday during the Kershaw County Chamber of Commerce’s 2015 Legislative Breakfast at the Robert Mills Courthouse. State Sen. Vincent Sheheen and State Rep. Jimmy Bales joined Funderburk and McElveen for the event.

Four members of Kershaw County’s legislative delegation gathered with interested local government officials and residents Friday during the Kershaw County Chamber of Commerce’s annual Legislative Breakfast at the historic Robert Mills Courthouse in Camden.

State representatives Laurie Slade Funderburk and Jimmy Bales and state senators Vincent Sheheen and Thomas McElveen fielded questions from the audience and moderator and chamber board member Rick Jiran. Chamber President Amy Kinard opened the event by thanking the legislators for their participation.

“One of the primary ways the chamber represents our members is through advocacy … monitoring legislation that affects your business and this community at the local, state and federal levels,” Kinard said. “On behalf of the chamber board of directors and our 435 members, I appreciate you taking the time to be with us this morning, your willingness to answer questions and the tireless work you do for Kershaw County and the citizens.”

Jiran asked the first few questions, with Funderburk, Bales, Sheheen and McElveen answering in turn before moving to the next question. The opening topic concerned the state budget, particularly a “bonding plan” rejected by the S.C. House Ways and Means Committee. Funderburk said the bond bill was received as a “very good idea” because the state does have a lot of capital needs.

“The bulk of the bond bill, however, was good for workforce development through our technical schools … to have the facilities they need to get our workforce to a point that we are able to supply trained individuals for the corporations that are in South Carolina and expanding and also that we know are coming,” Funderburk said. “In that aspect, it was going to do a lot of good for the state. Financially, economically, it seemed like a good idea. We haven’t had one since 1998. I did support the bond bill and, as we know, it did not pass.”

Sheheen said, as a businessman, he understands the need to keep up a company’s assets and the state should operate in the same way.

“If I allow my assets to decay, I am losing money. It costs more to fix your assets once they’re about to fall down than if you maintain your assets,” he said. “That is the purpose of an appropriate bond bill. You can have wasteful, inappropriate bond bills that I would not support. But if you are focusing on maintaining and preserving your assets, then it is fiscally and financially prudent.”

Another of Friday’s topics dealt with an idea coming out of Columbia to limit business license fees municipalities and counties can charge to $100. Local officials have said small governments such as the city of Camden rely heavily on the fees as part of their revenue. Funderburk owns a Camden business and said she is satisfied her license fees are a reasonable investment for the city services the business receives.

“I want to say how much I appreciate the services from the city that I get as a business owner. Our city downtown is looking great. Our tourism director is working hard,” Funderburk said. “I think a good bit of the problem is coming from businesses that sell high-priced items like cars. So, the license fees are based on gross revenues and not net revenues. I think that’s where a lot of the problem is coming from.”

Sheheen said a major problem in South Carolina is how taxes are levied. He said the state ranks 48th in terms of wages.

“We’re hanging out with Mississippi and West Virginia. We know we have incredible problems in the way our tax structure is formed. It’s not too high, it’s unfair and it’s hurting us economically,” he said. “It hurts our local government’s ability to deliver the services we need. We will not have a successful economy in South Carolina until we change our tax structure.”

Another topic concerned roads and infrastructure. Bales said he would support a new gas tax if there were assurances the revenue would be used properly.

“The needs are going to increase, ladies and gentlemen. They’re not going away. It’s going to take almost a billion dollars a year to get our roads up to standard,” Bales said. “I think we need to be realistic and do something to improve the roads.”

McElveen agreed the problem of road quality will not fix itself and solid infrastructure is one of the assets needed for economic development.

“We’ve got to do something on this. This problem is not going to go away. We talk about future economic investment and talk about opportunities. This is something that affects everything,” McElveen said. “We’ve got to have the courage to get something done. I don’t see how we can come up with the revenue we need without an increase to the user fee, the gas tax. But I’m not going to support taxing folks back home when we don’t see any of that money coming back. We have our needs, too, in these areas.”

Chamber Executive Director Liz Horton concluded the event by thanking the legislators, the event sponsors and the chamber board and members for making the annual gathering possible.

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