Highlights from today’s legislative luncheon, hosted by the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, from which I’ve just returned:
Plenty of unhappiness about resistance to I-73 — particularly in regards to DOT commissioner Sarah Nuckles — a feeling that our area is unfairly ignored by the rest of the state, a strong preference for keeping the current DOT commission rather than moving the agency under the governor’s office, and some strong pessimism that anything will actually happen when it comes to serious tax reform this year.
Details and quotes below:
Rep. Thad Viers on building the interstate: “I think the first thing we need to do is make sure commissioner Nuckles from the 3rd District is fired.”
Sen. Ray Cleary attributed the opposition at least partly to envy over us having the best commissioner, in Danny Isaac. In his words, the pushback is because “we’ve got the best of the best representing us.”
Sen. Luke Rankin, while admitting that “Sarah Nuckles has become the face of Just Say No to I-73,” said that the issue comes from deeper roots than just one commissioner. “There are a lot of folks in this state,” he said, “who don’t want to see Horry County and the Pee Dee prosper.”
Sen. Yancey McGill concurred with that idea, saying “the fight in Columbia over I-73 is just an excuse for not giving this area opportunities.”
That feeling of being ignored or looked down upon continued throughout the meeting. Cleary later said in referring to leaders in Columbia, “although we contribute a lot, they really don’t care.”
The discussion of I-73 led into talk of possible changes to the DOT’s governance, particularly in light of the bills prefiled already to devolve the commission and put the agency solely under the governor’s purview.
Rankin was steadfast in his opposition to that idea, saying that killing the commission would take the power of future development out of the hands of the elected officials of the General Assembly and solely in the hands of a governor that doesn’t have the best track record yet.
Rep. Nelson Hardwick, who chairs the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, said that he was at a meeting yesterday of committee chairmen, where the topic of reorganizing the DOT came up. According to Hardwick, “four out of six chairmen of standing committees said no to making a change at DOT. … There was no overwhelming consensus to do away with the highway commission.”
Eventually the talk moved to the idea of holistic tax reform and the prospects of anything happening this year, as the sales tax exemption suit is pondered by the state Supreme Court. The consensus on the podium was grim, with nobody suggesting that a real push on the issue was likely to get off the ground.
McGill, who has been in the legislature 24 years, said “they’ve talked about the tax restructuring all these years … I don’t see it happening.”
Hardwick: “We tackle most hard things in the first year of the session and then try to wrap things up.” The only thing that could change that would be the court, Hardwick said. “If they decide this year while we’re in session, we’ll do something about it. That’s the only way we’ll deal with it this session.”
Rankin said pretty much the same thing: “I’m afraid that we won’t do anything. … Put your hopes or fears in the Supreme Court.”
Cleary summed up his feelings on the prospect for tax reform in four words: “It’s an election year.”