The South Carolina Chamber of Commerce often acts as a de facto lobbying group when it seeks to further business interests with state legislators. With a statewide unemployment rate hovering above 10 percent, Chamber President Otis Rawl says lawmakers all agree creating jobs should be a top priority.
However, he expressed his frustration with the General Assembly Friday, telling SCRN that legislators are afraid to offer solutions. Instead, he says they are focusing on redistricting, voter ID, and a shrinking budget:
The people of South Carolina (in) this last election talked about creating jobs. And not one debate that they’re having, or look like they’re going to have, is going to create a job in the state.
The Chamber revealed its “Competitiveness Agenda 2011” last week, which Rawl calls “meat on the bones” for legislators nervous about creating solutions for a rough business climate.
The agenda calls for the repeal of Act 388, a 2006 law that exempted homeowners from paying property taxes for schools. Rawl said the result of the repeal was a larger tax burden shifted to commercial properties. He says South Carolina’s manufacturing property tax is also among the highest in the nation.
The Chamber also calls for legislators to take a look at the state’s environmental regulations. Rawl said South Carolina often tightens its laws to match the national standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency. However, if those federal laws are later eased, South Carolina doesn’t also adjust. He called for regulations to be no tougher than existing federal law.
The EPA’ll issue a ruling. It gets vacated by the courts. They reduce it back, our standards stay in place… So what we’re wanting to do is to make sure that our standards are not any stricter than the EPA’s.
Rawl also said a major concern should be the Port of Charleston’s future. He believes, as the Southeast’s deepest port, Charleston is ideal for the new, larger ships that will be coming through the Panama Canal after 2015. As it stands, the harbor would need to be dredged to handle the larger ships. However, funding for a required harbor deepening study has been held up at the federal level.
Another priority is the creation of more partnerships between public colleges and businesses, such as Innovista, endowed chairs, and IT-oLogy. However, Rawl says he realizes the state’s budget shortfall means any expansion for those programs are unlikely this year.
Some other priorities for the Chamber include tort reform and preventing healthcare costs from rising.
(Listen to part of SCRN’s interview with Rawl here)