Summerville’s business community on Tuesday received an update from state lawmakers on what to expect in the 2020 legislative session. Five local legislators were part of a panel to discuss state issues at the annual Legislative Luncheon, sponsored by the Greater Summerville/Dorchester County Chamber of Commerce. South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster was the keynote speaker.

According to McMaster, the key to solving the state’s biggest problems is to follow the formula of “collaboration, communication, and cooperation.”

Gov. McMaster joined by state legislators at Chamber luncheon

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster speaks at the 2019 Legislative Luncheon.

One recent example of this- saving the trees that surround Highway 61. McMaster praised Christy Hall, secretary of transportation for the SCDOT, for her work on the project to improve the road while not cutting down hundreds of trees.

“If you’ve been on that road, it’s beautiful,” McMaster said. “That’s a part of our legacy, part of our history, part of our culture in South Carolina and a lot of times you measure a society not only by what they build but what they preserve.”

According to McMaster, various agencies looked at the data on Highway 61 and discovered that cutting down trees was not necessary. Instead more signage was added, speed limits lowered and the road was widened in some parts.

“If you follow the law, communicate, collaborate and cooperate, you can get a lot of things done,” McMaster said.

Raising teacher salaries and increasing the number of school resource officers are two more successes, according to the governor.

“If we’re going to have good teachers, you’ve got to pay them,” McMaster said. “We are just at the southeastern average, I want to raise teacher pay again this year and get that done.”

McMaster also spoke about the idea for a Rural School District Economic Development Closing Fund, an economic development commitment that brings companies into regions that lack opportunity.

“We think that will be the spark that will take these businesses out into the rural areas because if you don’t have a job, you’re not going to get ahead,” McMaster said.

McMaster said economic growth and development needs to be smart and the world is discovering the potential in South Carolina. He said large manufacturing companies are drawn to the Palmetto State because of its natural beauty, qualified workforce, technical college system, and its patriotism combined with a rich faith tradition. He said South Carolina is known as “a handshake state,” because the people are trustworthy, honest, smart, and when they give their word, they keep it.

He addressed the state’s $1.8 billion surplus and said he believes part of that money can be used for a tax cut. He said Georgia and North Carolina recently cut taxes and that gives them a competitive edge to attract large businesses.

“Right now we are in a time of the most ferocious, fierce competition that we have seen and it’s all in the southern states,” McMaster said.

McMaster said nobody else can meet the challenges of what is coming next better than South Carolina. He said as the state’s population goes up and more businesses come into the region, state leaders have a responsibility to help connect people to new jobs.

“Our task right now is to not drop the ball, our task is to be sure we collaborate, communicate and cooperate and we can have enormous economic prosperity,” McMaster said. Without it you can’t have education, you can’t have public safety, you can’t have anything. You must have economic prosperity- that is the centerpiece of what we must do and I am convinced that we can do it.”

Participating in the legislative panel were State Representatives Chris Murphy, Con Chellis, Mandy Kimmons, Joe Daning, and State Senator Sean Bennett.

Murphy mentioned the backlog of projects involving maintenance on state buildings and colleges and said he hopes some of the state’s budget surplus will be reinvested into those types of projects. He spoke briefly about the next phase of the teacher pay raise and other budget topics.

“One of the highlights of our service is when we get to come back and report to members of our community about the state of affairs in South Carolina and what we’re doing on the House and Senate side,” Murphy said.

Chellis also addressed the topic of teacher pay raises, he served on the education and tax reform committees.

“The voices were heard and we understood the need and so we’re continuing to try to fight that battle for our teachers and get them the funding that they need,” Chellis said.

He described some of the legislation that he worked on including co sponsoring bills to reduce income tax and sales tax.

Daning said his focus, for the entire decade he has served as a state representative, has always been on education.

“One of the real big things we need to work on is the education funding formula,” Daning said.

“It’s a very convoluted formula, it’s very hard to understand and we just need to simplify that.”

Sen. Sean Bennett praised his delegation for their ability to “roll up sleeves and get things done.” He said tax reform is the key to properly funding education and infrastructure.

“Until we do (tax reform) we are always going to be behind and chasing what we need to do,” Bennett said.

His priorities for 2020 included the education bill, reducing regulations for healthcare systems, and lowering the cost of quality healthcare delivery.

Kimmons highlighted her goals for the coming year which include bills concerning the South Carolina Department of Social Services, stand your ground law, and a bill pertaining to homeschooling and extracurricular activities.