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Local business people say roads, education top list of legislative concerns

Author: Don Worthington

Source: The Herald

August 28, 2014

Recent economic development announcements in Chester and York counties may help shape next year’s legislative agenda for the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce.

People attending an annual luncheon sponsored by six area chambers of commerce said projects such as Chester County’s Giti Tire plant will require good roads to transport products. Giti Tire announced in June it would build a $560 million plant near Richburg that will eventually employ 1,700 people.

Giti and other plants will also require a consistent supply of skilled workers. The responsibility for educating those workers falls throughout the educational system, from the public school systems to technical colleges and and four-year schools such as Winthrop University, according to several speakers.

Concerns about providing those services were voiced Wednesday at the luncheon, which was held at the City Club in Rock Hill. The opinions will be forwarded to the state chamber, which is developing a lobbying strategy for 2015.

Roads, education, health care, taxes and regulations are frequently mentioned concerns at similar luncheons across the state. Unlike past years, moderator Rick Jiran pushed those in attendance Wednesday to offer solutions to the problems. Jiran is director of government and community relations for Duke Energy South Carolina.

Jiran asked the 100 people attending Wednesday’s luncheon if they would they support increasing the state’s gas tax to fund road repairs. At 16 cents per gallon, South Carolina’s gas tax is third lowest in the country. About two-thirds of the audience raised hands in support. No specific increase was offered, however.

Others said they would support a statewide 1 percent sales tax to pay for road repairs.

To have a highly skilled workforce, members of the audience suggested a closer relationship between regional schools and businesses, specifically more internships for students as well as teachers. Having teachers spend time at a business could help them align lessons with employer needs, some said.

Jiran noted that most of those relationships can be done without legislative action.

What can be done, some said, is to restore funding for public schools and colleges that was cut several years ago.

Concerns about South Carolina’s medical certificate-of-need program also was discussed. Gov. Nikki Haley wants to end the program, which prohibits health care providers from building medical facilities or buying expensive medical equipment without the state Department of Health and Environmental Control determining the facilities or equipment are needed. Haley has said such decisions should be determined by a free market.

For more than 10 years, Piedmont Medical Center of Rock Hill has battled with Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte and others to receive a certificate of need to build a Fort Mill hospital.

One suggestion offered Wednesday was to keep the certificate of need program, but exempt projects costing more than $50 million. That would allow for the construction of new hospitals without state approval.

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