The Takeaway: We will make it easier to do business in Greenville.
The General Assembly's 124th session begins today and your Chamber is committed to making it easier to do business in Greenville. Government regulation and legislative inaction are driving up the cost of doing business. Our agenda aims to drive down those costs in 2017.
First: A little bit about how we create our agenda. We had more than two dozen meetings with our groups inside the Greenville Chamber and with our Upstate Chamber Coalition partners. After collecting the input of more than 300 people across the Upstate, we compiled those suggestions into our member survey. This year, a record number of people took the survey, and there was overwhelming support for the agenda items.
So, what are we focusing on this year? Four key items.
1) Education and Workforce Development
This is the single biggest issue business owners and human resource executives express in nearly any meeting. With unemployment in Greenville County nearing historic lows (below 3.5%), merely finding bodies to match with jobs is a critical issue. We're urging the General Assembly to fully fund the Education Finance Act -- the basic building block of education funding -- so our students will be ready for work, tech school, or college. We're also advocating for creative solutions to bring people back into the workforce. Kentucky recently approved a sweeping record expungement bill -- that enjoyed broad bi-partisan support. One-time, low-level, non-violent offenders could have their records expunged, giving nearly 100,000 people in that state a chance at a better-paying job, or merely access to employment.
2) Transportation and Infrastructure
This is a perennial issue on our agenda, but one that the vast majority of businesses say is holding our state back. We need substantial, new, and recurring funding to fix our roads. We now have the second-lowest gas tax in the nation, and we are consistently rated as having the most deadly, or second most deadly, roads in the nation. The General Assembly has kicked the can down the proverbial road too long. We have a tremendous geographic advantage for business in the Upstate. We are at the junction of two major interstates, three hours from a top-10 port, great air capacity, and have 100 million customers within a day's drive. If we let that advantage slip away because of inaction, while our neighbors are taking major strides to improve infrastructure, our economy will suffer in the future.
3) Business Taxes and Regulation
Your Chamber will work to reduce red tape and create a tax environment so your business can grow. We'll work on a number of items under this heading, but the big ones are:
- Business License Fee Reform: We want to streamline and standardize a process that S.C. Chamber CEO Ted Pitts calls "the most business unfriendly in the nation." We also understand that, for many municipalities, this is a major portion of their budgets and can't be significantly cut or eliminated. We are working with business partners and municipalities to come up with a compromise that will benefit the small businesses that power our local economies.
- Tax Credits: We're working on a number of proposals that could extend tax credits to existing and expanding businesses. We need to reauthorize the "Angel Investor" tax credit so South Carolinians can fund local high-impact startups. We will also work to expand job development tax credits to businesses that are bringing in new jobs but don't qualify for traditional infrastructure-heavy industry.
4) Pension Reform
Our state pension system is a ticking time-bomb with a total bill that could dwarf the infrastructure problem. There is anywhere from a $19 billion (official estimates) to a $40 billion (think tank estimate) deficit in the pension system. As recently as 1999, our pension system was fully funded, but a shrinking state workforce and overzealoused investment assumptions (among many, many other problems) has sent our pension system into crisis. We need to keep our promises to our teachers, police officers, firefighters, and state employees. Even the most staunch anti-tax officials have said publicly that any fix is going to hurt and will probably involve higher taxes. In these scenarios, businesses usually shoulder the brunt of the tax increases. We urge the General Assembly to fix the pension system using realistic assumptions and do it fast -- before the problem gets worse and the potential taxes increases get higher.
We'll expand on each of these items in the coming weeks. In the meantime, please read or download our 2017 Public Policy Guide. If you are a Chamber investor, a hard copy will be mailed to your business this month. In the coming weeks, we'll debut new tools that will help you engage with your elected officials and a new policy website that will give you the information you need to advocate for your business.
Thank you for your support in creating this agenda. Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions or would like to get involved.
Jason Zacher is the Vice President of Business Advocacy at the Greenville Chamber & Upstate Chamber Coalition Executive Director.