Gov. Henry McMaster met with Michelin North America President Pete Selleck 10 days after Selleck declared that it was “unacceptable” for South Carolina to have no plan to fix its roads and bridges.
Selleck made the remark at a Feb. 21 press conference in Columbia that was called to show support for a House plan that would generate an additional $600 million a year for road improvements, in part by raising the gas tax 10 cents a gallon over five years.
McMaster has declined to endorse the plan, saying he hopes to find other ways of generating road money and would raise the gas tax only as a “last resort.”
But neither he nor any other South Carolina politician can afford to ignore Selleck, whose Greenville-based company has invested billions of dollars in the state and employs 9,000 South Carolinians, most of them in the Upstate.
At the Columbia press conference, Selleck praised various improvements around the state, including harbor-deepening plans at the Port of Charleston, where he said Michelin contributes 30,000 cargo containers to the annual volume.
“But there’s one area that clearly is flashing red, and that’s the road and bridge system in this state,” Selleck said. “And it’s flashing red not just because it’s degraded but more importantly because, as of right now, there is no plan. There is no plan to address this problem. And that is unacceptable. It’s absolutely unacceptable for the future of this state.”
McMaster mentioned his meeting with Selleck while talking with reporters Friday, following a speech to Greenville Chamber members at the Westin Poinsett Hotel.
Asked for his reaction to Selleck’s comments at the Columbia press conference, McMaster said, “We were just out at Michelin before we came here. And we’ve been together on a lot of occasions and he’s right. I think everybody understands that the roads need to be fixed. That’s part of our infrastructure that allows commerce to flourish. But the question is, is there another way to do it? Is there a better way to do it, without raising taxes? Is there another way to get the money?”
Asked if he’d veto a road-funding bill that included a gas-tax hike, McMaster said he has not concluded that a tax increase is necessary.
“I believe there are many ways that we can raise money, and have the money, without increasing taxes. The question is will it be enough? So I’m studying. I know a lot of others are as well. But everyone agrees, as a part of our economic future we must have good roads and we need to start now.”
Michelin spokesman Eric Bruner did not mention the road-funding issue in a statement to UBJ confirming McMaster’s stop at the tiremaker’s U.S. 1 plant in southern Greenville County.
“The governor’s visit served as an opportunity to show him Michelin’s industry-leading manufacturing processes, as well as briefly discuss several of the company’s policy priorities,” Bruner said in the statement.
“Michelin appreciates the governor’s thoughtful approach to studying important business issues first-hand. We’re grateful for the opportunity to continue a collaborative dialogue with him, and his staff, on topics that make South Carolina a competitive environment for long-term economic growth.”