By Paul Gable
You have to give Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce CEO Karen Riordan credit, if there’s a way to make relations with Horry County Council members worse than they already are, she will find it.
Last week saw the Chamber send out a mail piece full of information that ranged from misleading to totally false. In today’s lexicon – Fake News
Members of county council took immediate offense at Riordan and Chamber Government Liaison Jimmy Gray, the two Chamber officials hired to replace the work of Brad Dean after Dean resigned from the Chamber and who were, reportedly, responsible for the mailer’s contents.
County council member Harold Worley led a 25-minute discussion about the real facts versus the fictitious Chamber version of the I-73 funding debate, at the end of last week’s regular meeting.
“The only thing in the Chamber brochure that was true was the one-lane on 501,” Worley said. “Everything else was a lie.”
The message in the brochure was, “Tell Horry County Council it’s time to fund I-73.”
And Riordan and her cabal minions are using these tactics to pressure county council into committing funding for Interstate 73. How’s that going?
This situation would never have happened under the watch of former Chamber CEO Brad Dean!
The two biggest whoppers in the brochure:
“We (Myrtle Beach) were one lane away from being cut off. The construction of Interstate 73 would ensure this never happens again.”
“Funding from the federal, state and local governments is lined up.”
Two quick responses:
- The current plan for Interstate 73 is to connect to the current SC 22 just below the Hwy 319 exit where 22 will become I-73 the remainder of the way to the US 17 terminus at Briarcliffe. The section of 22 between the 905 and 90 exits was underwater and closed for a week or so after the Hurricane Florence rains. Even if I-73 was completed according to its current construction plans, Myrtle Beach would have had one lane on 501 as the only non-flooded lifeline.
- Funding is nowhere near being “lined up” at any level. The current plan calls for $1.6 billion needed to complete I-73 from Briarcliffe to connection with I-95 near Dillon. With inflation and the necessity to make major upgrades to the current 22 to avoid future flooding between 905 and 90 exits, that is probably closer to $2-2.5 billion needed to complete construction of that 66-mile section to I-95. But even the $1.6 billion is not there.
As I wrote in October 2021, when this funding formula was first announced by Gov. Henry McMaster, the $795 million from the state, the $435 million from the feds and the $350 million from local governments in Horry County is not appropriated in any government budget at any of the three levels.
McMaster was in Myrtle Beach last week saying he “thinks” the General Assembly will appropriate $300 million in next year’s budget. Even if that happens, the state remains $495 million short.
The message in the latest Chamber mailer, as well as the recent letter from Grand Strand Business Alliance Chairman Steve Chapman and the email sent by Riordan in October, after Horry County refused to appropriate $4.2 million per year specifically to I-73, is, “Tell Horry County its’s time to fund I-73.”
Are we to believe Horry County failing to contribute $4.2 million per year for 30 years brings a $1.6 billion project to a halt?
Again, none of the $1.6 billion needed in funding is appropriated in any governmental budget at this time.
And again, this would not have ever happened under Brad Dean. Dean understood you do not get public money from governments by picking a fight with them. Riordan and Gray obviously don’t get that.
Dean understood the key to funding I-73 lies at the federal and state levels. The money called for from local governments in Horry County, even if it’s possible to get them to commit to $350 million total, is only 21 percent of the total project cost.
At the federal level, Chamber favorite Rep. Tom Rice has not produced any significant funding for I-73. Most of the approximately $88 or so million received from the federal government to date for I-73 came from the work of former Rep. Henry Brown.
At the state level, Chamber allies Reps. Russell Fry, Heather Crawford, Case Brittain (and Alan Clemmons before him) and Tim McGinnis and Sens. Luke Rankin and Stephen Goldfinch have failed to produce any state funding for the I-73 project.
Fry is one of the candidates now challenging Rice for his Congressional seat. This is another issue that Dean would have never allowed – two candidates tied to the Chamber running against each other. Especially when there is a strong candidate in the race not tied to the Chamber, Ken Richardson, who is carrying a message that is resonating with voters.
At the local level, Myrtle Beach has pledged $4.2 million per year and North Myrtle Beach $1.7 million per year, both in resolutions containing a number of requirements from other governments, which will probably never be met, before either city actually commits funding to a budget ordinance.
Horry County is actually setting money aside for “interstate or other road funding” in its budget that could be tapped for I-73, but only if the federal and state government funding is actually appropriated to the project.
Coincidentally, as the Chamber was picking another fight with county council, Grand Strand Daily commissioned a poll with two questions specifically about the Chamber and its political activity. The poll was limited to voters within the Myrtle Beach city limits. (I already knew the answers from voters west of the waterway.)
Question 1 – “Would you be in favor of using the Tourism Development Fee in helping fund I-73?”
Those who responded: Yes – 185, No – 63, Undecided – 52, Refused to answer – 19
Question 2 – “Do you support the Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce funding political candidates?”
Those who responded: Yes – 41, No – 190, Undecided – 46, Refused to answer – 23
If the Chamber listens to the voters in its own city, the Tourism Development Fee (which provides the Chamber upwards of $30 million taxpayer dollars per year) should be used as a funding source for I-73. What better way to promote tourism development than to use the tax revenue the Chamber receives on its number one tourism development project?
Additionally, the Chamber should keep its nose out of politics and concentrate on helping all businesses succeed, which should be its primary function anyway.
These results are not good news for Mark Lazarus or Johnny Vaught, both of whom have indicated they will challenge Johnny Gardner for the chairmanship of Horry County Council in the upcoming June 2022 Republican primary.
Both Lazarus and Vaught need campaign donations from the Chamber and its Cabal associates to fund a campaign. Both have tied their apron strings to the Chamber’s efforts to get county funding for I-73.
As one council member said recently, “Lazarus wanted to fund the entire cost of construction of I-73 in Horry County from county tax dollars.”
Alas, the Chamber will probably ignore the responses of the voters in Myrtle Beach and continue its fight with Horry County Council. It may even decide to put its declining political influence behind Lazarus or Vaught, if either actually files as a candidate. And it will probably continue to ignore the forest (local voters) while concentrating on a few local trees.
What’s that insanity quote – “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results?
Brad Dean would never make this mistake!