The 2017-2018 legislative session for the General Assembly is shaping up to be one of the most pro-business in recent memory.
The General Assembly is often criticized for kicking the can down the road on big issues and not making the best use of their time in their chambers (arguably, valid criticisms).
Upon visiting the Statehouse, visitors are often surprised to find that they’ve entered a different time zone — House and Senate not-so-standard time — which means starting late and spending the next hour recognizing state champion teams.
South Carolina had one of the longest legislative sessions in the country, but the General Assembly shortened the session this year by three weeks to save taxpayer dollars and quicken the legislative process.
Couple the shortened session with a change in the governor’s office, and there were many excuses at the General Assembly’s disposal to not to get much this year.
Instead, they buckled down, gave bills hearings, and made better use of their time in their chambers. The result? They tackled some of our state’s biggest issues, which included big wins for Upstate businesses.
Here’s a look at a few of the Chamber’s top pro-business priorities that advanced:
Long-term Road Funding. After nearly five years of the business community and chambers of commerce statewide beating the drum on this issue, South Carolina finally has sustainable funding to fix our roads. We have the second largest state-maintained road system in the nation and were unable to maintain these roads with the second lowest gas tax in the nation. The General Assembly passed a bill to raise the gas tax by 12 cents, still keeping us below North Carolina’s and Georgia’s gas tax, while also making the DOT more accountable and providing offsetting tax breaks.
This is a big win for business. A good infrastructure is essential to get goods to market efficiently and is an important incentive for companies looking to locate in our state.
Fixing South Carolina’s Pension Crisis. In an effort to chip away at the state retirement system’s monstrous unfunded liability, legislation was passed that raises employee and employer contributions. Realizing business taxes are bound to increase, we’ve advocated for the “least bad deal” for businesses in that the increases would be proportionately born between the state, local governments, and citizens. Since this bill is only a first step, the General Assembly is continuing to work on legislation that will make the system solvent.
The Real I.D. Act. The legislature acted quickly to enact a law that allows South Carolinians to continue to use our driver’s licenses to board airplanes, and enter federal buildings and military bases. Without this important legislation, we would need a passport just to fly to Atlanta or Charlotte.
Workforce Expansion. This bill expands current expungement laws to low-level, nonviolent acts such as first-time drug offenses. This bill will help fill critical work shortages across the state by putting more people back to work or helping these offenders get better jobs. This bill passed the House overwhelmingly this session, and we’ll continue to work on it in the second year of the session.
Tax Credits for High-Impact Companies and Angel Investors. These bills will allow more corporate offices and headquarters to apply for job development credits, and they provide a tax incentive for angel investors who invest in South Carolina startups. These bills aren’t quite law yet, but they made progress this year and still have opportunity to pass next year.
A number of other major priorities have also moved — notably, legislation to rein in nuisance lawsuits against our existing manufacturers, legislation on the jurisdiction of magistrate’s court, and legislation protecting new development from excessive lawsuits.
The Greenville Chamber of Commerce thanks the House and Senate on the work they’ve accomplished this session for the business community, and we commend them for their work in passing an impressive docket of bills considering this year’s new time constraints. The Upstate is fortunate to have a pro-business delegation in Columbia, and with their commitment to the Upstate economy, we’re excited to see what the second year of the session holds.
Katie Busbee is the director of legislative affairs for the Greenville Chamber of Commerce and Upstate Chamber Coalition.