Chambers campaign for road fix
Source: Greenville News
January 16, 2015
In Columbia and Charleston, chamber officials joined similar press conferences to highlight the study by TRIP, an industry-funded group that advocates for more road funding at the state and federal levels.
With lawmakers back in session, chambers of commerce across South Carolina are in campaign mode, pushing lawmakers to fix South Carolina's deteriorating roads and bridges.
The state Department of Transportation says an additional $1.5 billion a year is needed, but so far lawmakers haven't decided how to generate new revenue, or even whether they should. Gov. Nikki Haley has promised to present a plan soon.
Chamber officials say they aren't advocating any particular tax or fee, but they want action this year.
"Every single year we hear, 'This is the year something has to happen.' And year after year, nothing happens," Smith said. "So now is the time our elected officials really need to act."
He said the Spartanburg chamber contributed toward a $50,000 social media campaign planned by the South Carolina Alliance To Fix Our Roads, a business-backed group in Columbia.
Road funding was the No. 1 topic at the Spartanburg chamber's annual legislative breakfast in December, Smith said.
The issue wasn't just raised by chamber officials, he said, "but folks in the audience, business people, standing up left and right. Almost every question was centered around infrastructure."
In Greenwood, chamber members will gather at the American Legion on Feb. 13 to hear Eric Dickey, chairman of the South Carolina Alliance To Fix Our Roads, said Angelle LaBorde, president of the Greenwood Chamber.
In Greenville, the chamber's lobbyist, Jason Zacher, said he's working to "activate the grass roots."
Zacher, who also lobbies for a coalition of 12 Upstate chambers, said "regular business owners" have been responding to the campaign, asking "How can we help? How can we help? How can we help?"
"We haven't had that in a while," Zacher said.
Brad Dean, president of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, said road funding remains at the top of its list of legislative priorities.
Chamber members will discuss the issue with lawmakers in Columbia on Feb. 4 as part of the annual Legislative Day for the Grand Strand, Dean said.
"Our delegation almost to a person is saying they're ready to move on this issue, but they're unsure of the legislative support statewide," Dean said.
While some lawmakers are talking about reforming the DOT first, "Reform doesn't build roads and repair bridges," he said.
It isn't clear what effect the chambers' push is having.
Rep. Chandra Dillard, a Greenville Democrat, said she's getting the message, but also heard the message Greenville County voters sent in November when they rejected a 1 percent sales tax hike to pay for road improvements.
Voters overwhelmingly defeated the plan, even though it had strong support from chambers of commerce and the local realtors association.
In Columbia now, "I'm looking to see who's going to be the strongest voice to push this forward," Dillard said. "I think they're all saying we've got to do something, but what's the something?"
Ted Pitts, president of the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce, said he's encouraged by what he's hearing from House and Senate leaders.
Haley's former chief of staff, Pitts is scheduled to talk about road funding Friday at the Greenville Chamber.
"We feel confident something is going to move in the House at the beginning of this session," Pitts told The Greenville News, adding, "Our expectation is they just don't talk about it, it actually gets done."