Ted Pitts was a commercial real estate broker, Army captain in Afghanistan, member of the state House from Lexington County, and chief of staff for former Gov. Nikki Haley before becoming CEO of the S.C. Chamber of Commerce in January 2015.
On March 8, he stopped by UBJ’s offices and talked about a variety of topics, including whether the General Assembly will approve more road funding as the state chamber and others want. The interview took place a week after the House approved — by a veto-proof majority — raising $600 million more a year for roads in part through a 10-cent hike in the gas tax over five years.
So what’s at the top of Ted Pitts’ mind?
Adequate funding for roads and bridges is an issue that everybody can agree has to be addressed. We need our political leaders to have the courage to be able to address it. I guess I’m hopeful that this year is the year that it ultimately gets done, and we get a long-term, sustainable solution that puts South Carolina’s infrastructure in a place that doesn’t inhibit any future economic growth because I think we’re at that point right now.
You’re thinking if we don’t do something, it’s going to hurt economic development?
Yeah. We’ve got a world-class port that we ought to be very proud of. But as we look at the congestion and the condition of the interstates that go in and out of South Carolina’s port system, then we’re at a point where we can’t continue to ignore the issue. You look last year at the I-85 project that [began] as a resurfacing project and then they had to stop it and it’s a reconstruction project. The state’s infrastructure could be our largest asset, the taxpayers’ largest asset. Our roads and bridges belong to the taxpayers. We need our political leaders to adequately maintain that infrastructure.
You were in the House eight years and worked for the governor. You understand the reticence to raise taxes, right?
Right, and I tell you the business community does not want to raise taxes. The business community wants a more favorable tax climate. But when you look at the way we fund infrastructure — the gas tax, the last time it was addressed, was in 1987. And the reason that’s the funding source that’s most talked about is because the people that use the roads are actually paying for it. … It also allows those out-of-state motorists to pay for their share to maintain our infrastructure.
In the Senate, do you expect Sen. Tom Davis to filibuster again?
I don’t know that he’s going to filibuster, but he’s going to take the time and make the Senate listen to his points on the issue. And I think the Senate obviously will respect his right for some amount of time to allow him to talk. Hopefully, at some point they realize that it’s time to quit talking and start voting, start doing the job the taxpayers sent them to do.
We have a new governor. How do you think he’s going to come down on the issue?
We’ve had conversations with Henry McMaster, and the business community is very familiar with Henry and comfortable with him being governor. He has a long, distinguished record in government and the business community respects him. I don’t know exactly where the governor’s going to be. … We think ultimately in order to get a bill through, it’s going to have to have supermajority support, regardless if the governor signs it or vetoes it. So ultimately, our goal in the Senate now is to get that two-thirds vote that’s needed. We’re told they’re going to vote the last week of March.
Are you expecting a veto-proof majority in the Senate?
That’s the goal. I think it’s key. I think if we don’t have a veto-proof majority, it’s probably tough to ultimately get the bill to become law.
Really? Why? Because McMaster’s going to veto?
I think if you don’t have the majority of the Republican caucus supporting this in the Senate, you’re likely to have a Republican governor veto the bill.
Because he’s got to face the voters in two years?
I think it’s just a Republican governor working with the Republican caucuses in both bodies, trying to make sure that a bill that passes has the kind of support it needs to carry the day.
What’s your sense for what’s happening in the Senate?
I think there will be a conversation about tax relief. Right now the House bill doesn’t have any tax relief in it. … I think the Senate will continue to have conversations about whether tax relief is part of the plan and what it looks like. I think a lot of conversation will revolve around that.