By Paul Gable
The Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce propaganda blitz for I-73 funding failed to secure any money for the project in next fiscal year’s state budget.
It is now obvious to all but the Chamber and its cabal cronies that it’s easier to pass a camel through the eye of a needle than to get funding for I-73.
With all the excess money floating around in Columbia this year from federal Covid relief funds and excess state revenue, this was the year for the Chamber to finally secure some funding to construct at least a portion of I-73.
The thought around the Chamber was, if it couldn’t get I-73 funding in the budget this year, it was never going to get it. The Chamber didn’t get it.
The reality, something the Chamber avoids like the plague, is it’s difficult to convince legislators that a new, 66-mile spur road from I-95 to Briarcliffe is a priority over all the existing roads and bridges in the state that have been ignored for decades.
Over the last six months, the Chamber did its best to put a positive spin the I-73 story.
In late October, the Chamber hosted a press conference featuring Gov. Henry McMaster, Congressman Tom Rice and Rep. Russell Fry where it was predicted the General Assembly would dedicate $300 million to construction of I-73.
The Chamber sent an email chastising Horry County Council for not voting to immediately provide funds for I-73 construction.
The Chamber put on its annual legislative reception extravaganza in Columbia to lobby for funding for I-73.
And none of that worked. The General Assembly did not earmark any funds for I-73 construction.
The next idea was to get candidates who would oppose Horry County Chairman Johnny Gardner, Horry County District 1 council member Harold Worley and for the new SC House District 61.
Enter Mark Lazarus to oppose Gardner. Lazarus convinced council to sign a funding agreement with SCDOT for the county to provide at least $25 million a year for I-73 construction. This agreement was cancelled in the first year of the Gardner administration.
As a backup, the Chamber has Horry County District 8 council member Johnny Vaught also opposing Gardner for county chairman in the upcoming Republican primaries. Vaught was Lazarus’ surrogate for some campaign events during the 2018 election campaign, which Lazarus lost.
In other council races, candidates Jenna Dukes opposing Worley in County Council District 1, Mike Masciarelli and Brandon Skipper in County Council District 8 and incumbent council member Bill Howard in County Council District 2 also have Chamber backing.
In the two contested SC House races on the Republican Primary ballot, former Chamber board president Carla Schuessler in House District 61 and candidate Val Guest in House District 106 are reportedly the preferred Chamber candidates.
In the SC 7th Congressional District, the Chamber has its number one proponent for I-73, incumbent Tom Rice, who has failed over 10 years in Congress to obtain any significant funding on the federal level for I-73. Rice’s reelection was endorsed early by Lazarus.
As a backup I-73 proponent in the 7th Congressional District race, the Chamber has Russell Fry, who McMaster helped get an endorsement from Donald Trump, in the hope that should Rice lose the upcoming primary, Fry will win it and keep an I-73 voice in Washington. In six years in the SC House, Fry has failed to get any funding from the state for I-73.
According to sources who spoke on conditions of anonymity, the current discussion among Cabal associates close to the Chamber is what can be done to get county funding for I-73?
One apparent answer is to defeat Gardner and Worley, re-elect Howard in District 2 and get either Masciarelli or Skipper elected in District 8.
With either Lazarus or Vaught replacing Gardner, Dukes replacing Worley, Howard back in District 2 and either Masciarelli or Skipper in District 8, the Chamber would have the votes on county council to use locally collected hospitality tax dollars to fund I-73 construction instead of improvement and upgrades to local roads.
The real answer is to get considerable federal and state funding for I-73, something the Chamber candidates have been unable to do to date.
The focus for the citizens who vote in these primaries will determine the outcomes. Do they vote for the Chamber preferred candidates or do they vote for the county incumbents and other county and state candidates who wish to serve all the people of Horry County and not just special interests?