By Paul Gable
Obvious campaigning with the Horry County budget didn’t work for county council chairman and 7th Congressional District candidate Tom Rice Wednesday as his fellow council members saw through the attempt.
During a council Committee of the Whole meeting, Rice suggested a series of proposed budget changes that appeared to be designed more for their voter appeal than county fiscal stability.
The county budget for FY 2013 has passed two readings and will be up for third reading at the regular council meeting scheduled for June 19, 2012.
During budget discussions, workshops and readings since January, Rice has opposed proposed pay raises for county workers while he advocated building a reserve fund for projected budget deficits beginning with FY 2014.
But, less than a week from the first round of voting in the Republican Congressional Primary, everything changed. Wednesday Rice was an advocate for, among other things, a $2 million tax cut, a one percent pay raise for county employees and merging the Horry County Police Department with the Horry County Sheriff’s Department.
Reserve funds don’t strike a chord with voters, but pay raises and tax cuts do. So, the final week of campaigning seemed like a good time to suggest them.
Unfortunately for Rice, county council members are wise to his attempted vote pandering. Through the winter and spring, council suffered through a series of unnecessary debates about bike weeks as Rice tried to appeal to his northside Myrtle Beach voter base.
Now, trying to expand his appeal to at least get into a second round runoff in next week’s voting, Rice is trying to get headlines with a tax cut proposal.
For many reasons this was a bad fiscal move for the county. Nevertheless, using the excuse of a projected additional $2 million to the county from the state local government fund, Rice suggested a permanent tax cut.
There are many problems with this thinking. The $2 million will probably only be $1 million by the time the General Assembly completes conferencing on the state budget. The amount changes from year to year and the trend has been less and less each year from the state, not more.
You don’t base permanent tax cuts on temporary money, unless you are looking for the headline value to bolster a stagnant campaign. This is especially true in a tight budget year when the council is looking for ways to meet increased public safety demands from the citizens.
The actual tax cut to each property owner would have been less than $10 per year, according to one council member. But, headlines bannering a $2 million tax cut overall could sound good in the closing week of a campaign.
Council members were already trying to find ways to give county employees their first raise in four years throughout this budget cycle. Rice has been resistant to the raise until now, but somebody must have pointed out to him county employees are county voters too.
Merging the Sheriff’s Department with the Police Department was a hot button issue a few years ago, but changes at the top of the police command structure have lessened concern about that department among council members. It is a non-starter right now, but it could make for a few headlines during campaign crunch time.
Rice was sworn in as county chairman in January 2011. Within eight months of assuming that position, he made the decision to run for Congress. Since that decision, Rice’s credibility among his fellow council members has dwindled to near zero as his focus on county business became less and less. Cheap campaign publicity stunts near the end of budget considerations do not help that credibility.
It’s safe to say Rice won’t get more than two votes next week from the group on the council dais, one of which, presumably, will be his. He won’t get support for his obvious campaign tricks from that group either.