Tag: Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce

Chamber I-73 Funding Loses Again in Columbia

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’s becoming obvious to all but the Chamber and its cronies that it would be easier to pass a camel through the eye of the needle than to get funding for I-73.
With all the excess money floating around in Columbia from federal Covid relief funds and excess state revenue, this was supposed to be the year the Chamber finally secured 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 upcoming budget, it was never going to get it. It didn’t.
Even with all the excess money floating around the state budget process this year, 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 so many years.
In Horry County alone, the needs for improvements on 90, 905, 501, 9, 319 and 544, to name a few, far outweigh the need for the I-73 spur road.
The Chamber counted on its preferred politicians, Tom Rice, Russell Fry and Henry McMaster to get the job done.

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Chamber Candidates Rice and Fry versus the Field in 7th Congressional District Race

When President Donald Trump ran for office in 2016, a major pledge of his candidacy was to “Drain the Swamp” of Washington, D.C., a phrase that attracted many voters.
Draining the swamp included key items like clamping down on the influence of lobbyists and ending the practice of politicians being the puppets of ‘big money donors.’ As was said at the time, big money controls politics, often at the expense of average citizens.
While Trump was able to partially drain some of the influence of the swamp, the idea that more draining must be done still rests in the minds of many voters, especially Republicans.
The special interests in Horry County, the lobbyists and big money donors, include the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, the Grand Strand Business Alliance and the cabal associated with them.
One hears an almost constant din from the Chamber, the GSBA and their allies about the need for Interstate 73 and the federal, state and local tax dollars needed to build it. Could it be because members of the cabal stand to gain financially from construction of I-73?
Interstate 73 has been the subject of recent Facebook ads by the South Carolina Taxpayers Association asking the voters of South Carolina to call SC Senate President Thomas Alexander and request the General Assembly to address the maintenance and upgrading needed on all the roads throughout the state rather than a ‘special interest’ project like I-73.
Rice went to Congress nearly 10 years ago with the promise to get the money needed to build I-73. It hasn’t happened. The Chamber, to date, continues to support a Rice reelection even after Rice’s vote to impeach President Donald Trump made him extremely unpopular with the majority of voters in the 7th Congressional District.
SC Rep. Russell Fry took eight months, after the impeachment vote, before he made any public remarks about Rice’s vote to impeach President Trump. It was only after Fry announced his intention to challenge Rice in the upcoming Republican Primary that he began to criticize Rice and the Fry criticism of Rice to date has been lukewarm at best, rather like criticizing a family member.

McMaster’s Liberal I-73 Agenda in State of State Speech

Governor Henry McMaster revealed what a pseudo-conservative he really is by including funding for the proposed Interstate 73 project in his State of the State agenda.
In his speech, McMaster said, “Our booming economy and rapid population growth have outpaced the state’s ability to keep up with improvements to our transportation infrastructure.”
Anyone driving on South Carolina roads would agree.
McMaster went on to say that he was asking the General Assembly to appropriate $660 million from the state’s share of federal American Rescue Plan Act funds and $600 million from the state’s excess revenue to the SC Department of Transportation.
McMaster said this one-time injection of $1.26 billion into the DOT budget would allow accelerate work on “some of the state’s highest priority projects.” Among those “highest priority projects” named was “the long-awaited start of construction on Interstate 73 from the Pee Dee to the Grand Strand.”
I’m sure McMasters’ words warmed the cockles of Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce CEO Karen Riordan’s heart and those of the special interests gathered around the Chamber supporting I-73.
Can we conclude payback to those interests for the many campaign contributions made to McMaster’s war chest?
Consider this:
When McMaster attended a Chamber press conference on I-73 last fall, he announced he would ask the General Assembly for $300 million from ARPA funds to construct six miles of the road in Dillon County. Fifty million dollars per mile, even for this boondoggle, seems a bit rich, but those are McMaster’s words.

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Jay Jordan Another ‘Good Ol’ Boy’ in State Senate Bid

The special Republican Primary for state Senate District 31 next Tuesday presents a classic ‘good ol’ boy’ versus outsider matchup between current House member Jay Jordan and businessman Mike Reichenbach.
It will be a test of how dedicated Republican voters are to see change in the way politics are conducted in South Carolina.
House incumbent Jordan has Starboard Communications, the political consulting firm of Walter Whetsell, running his campaign, which should be a red flag for voters who want change. Whetsell is the consultant for Congressman Tom Rice and is closely tied to the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce and its Interstate 73 project.
Another interesting fact is how the South Carolina Association for Justice (SCAJ) has provided maximum contributions to the Jordan campaign. SCAJ has its own named political action committee, SCAJ PAC, which gave the maximum to Jordan. Then, there are 10 more associated PACs, Justice PACs 1-10, all of which have the same address as the SCAJ PAC and each of these supposedly individual PACs gave maximum contributions to the Jordan campaign on the same day – December 6, 2021, according to Jordan’s campaign disclosure filings.
Eleven supposedly individual PACs, all with the same address as the South Carolina Association for Justice PAC, appears on the surface to be an attempt by an association of lawyers to circumvent the state’s campaign finance law.
Supposedly independent PACs with the same address have been funded by the Grand Strand Business Alliance, which is funded by the Chamber, to support Chamber candidates in the past. It may be technically legal but it doesn’t pass the smell test.
It should be noted these lawyer PACs provided the same type of support to Horry County Sen. Luke Rankin in his 2020 reelection campaign. That campaign and its internal associations are now the subject of a lawsuit by Rankin opponent John Gallman.

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Gov. McMaster Tries to Keep I-73 Project Alive

Gov. Henry McMaster requested the General Assembly appropriate $300 million, from American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds the state received from the federal government, to construction of Interstate 73 as one of the items in the executive budget he submitted to the legislative body earlier this week.
McMaster made good on the promise he made to the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce at an October 2021 press conference when he said he would request the I-73 funding from the General Assembly.
Traditionally, executive budgets submitted by governors of this state have received minimal consideration before being shelved and ignored when the SC House writes the budget. There is no reason to believe the same won’t happen with the governor’s request for I-73 funding.
McMaster presented a funding plan for the I-73 project which consisted of $800 million from the state, including the $300 million which is actually federal funds given to the state, an additional $450 million from the federal government and $350 million from the local governments in Horry County.
However, Chamber President Karen Riordan attempted to spin the governor’s remarks at the October press conference as a pledge that the I-73 project would receive $300 million from the state. She was joined in that spin effort by Rep. Case Brittain, who in his first year in the SC House was made president of the I-73/74/75 Corridor Association, which is a high-sounding name for a Chamber created entity.
In addition, Congressman Tom Rice and SC Rep. Russell Fry were prominent at the press conference and enthusiastic in their statements on I-73 funding. Fry, of course, announced in August that he was challenging Rice for the Congressional seat because Rice has been a failure to his constituents in the 7th Congressional District. GSD has said over and over that Fry is really a clone of Rice who hopes to gain Chamber support for his Congressional run should Rice continue to falter with voters.
Actually, the press conference and statements by the various elected officials was nothing more than an attempt to keep the I-73 project on some kind of life support.
What has happened since that October press conference?

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North Myrtle Beach Council Members Vote for I-73 Funding – Or Did They?

North Myrtle Beach City Council voted at last night’s meeting to provide $1.7 million annually to construction of Interstate 73 contingent on so many variables it really isn’t a provision at all.
Among the contingencies required for North Myrtle Beach to provide any money to I-73 is a requirement for the other cities and counties that would supposedly benefit from construction of the highway to also contribute money for construction of the road.
In addition, North Myrtle Beach restricted use of any money it may provide to actual construction costs. Specifically prohibited from use of any money provided by North Myrtle Beach are right of way acquisition, engineering and legal services, construction documents, environmental studies and reports of any kind. Funds from North Myrtle Beach may not be used on SC 22 or any other roadway and actual construction must begin before December 31, 2024.
Despite the headlines of local television stations last night, the North Myrtle Beach resolution contains so many restrictions and prior requirements from other local governmental agencies in three counties as to make it virtually meaningless.
The North Myrtle Beach resolution varies widely from a proposal by Gov. Henry McMaster during a press conference at the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce in October 2021.
According to the governor’s proposed $1.6 billion funding plan, the state will be asked to provide $795 million for the I-73 project all of which will be spent in Dillon and Marion counties. The federal government will be asked to provide $450 million, most of which will be spent in Marion and Dillon counties. Local governments in Horry County were asked to provide $350 million for construction of the road in Horry County. None of the cities in Dillon and Marion counties nor the county governments themselves were asked to provide any money toward construction of I-73.
The governor’s plan only included funding for construction of what is really an interstate spur road from I-95 south of Dillon to the eastern terminus of the road at the end of the current SC 22 in the Briarcliffe area.

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Chamber Response to County Council Rejection of I-73 Funding is Arrogant and Threatening

The Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce issued an arrogant and threatening email response to the rejection by a majority of county council Tuesday night to a resolution funding Interstate 73 from local county tax revenue.
Whether she authored the email personally or it was authored by one of her underlings, Karen Riordan as MBACC President and CEO bears direct responsibility for its contents.
Responding to questions about the email from a local media outlet, Riordan attempted to pass off its contents as showing “appreciation to the Horry County Council members who voted for funding Interstate 73.”
Such a statement would be true if the email was limited to the first and last two sentences in its content.
However, when the statement, “Make no mistake about it, we need local and county support for this Interstate and there will be additional votes at county council,” was included the email crossed the line from congratulations to arrogant threat.
According to comments I’ve received from several of the six county council members who voted against the resolution, the Chamber email was not viewed favorably by any of the six and apparently the email has stiffened their resolve to oppose local funding for Interstate 73.
The entire lobbying effort for local government funding for I-73 by the Chamber was mishandled from its start. I would submit it demonstrates a clear lack of understanding of local citizens’ attitudes and local politics in today’s environment.
For example, four members of county council who voted against the resolution, Harold Worley, Mark Causey, Danny Hardee and Al Allen, were born, raised and make their living in the council districts they represent. They know the desires of their constituents much better than the Chamber group.
Council member Orton Bellamy, a Horry County native, represents a district that derives little to no benefit from Chamber marketing or the proposed I-73 and is a retired Army officer who will not be intimidated by the Chamber lobby.
Council Chairman Johnny Gardner, a Horry County native, was opposed by the Chamber group when he ran for office and wasn’t even invited to attend any of the private meetings hosted by the Chamber in which the need and strategy for obtaining local funding was discussed. Instead council member Dennis DiSabato was included in that group and DiSabato could not convince six members of council to join him in voting for the resolution.

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Horry County Council Rejects I-73 Funding

By a 6-5 vote, Horry County Council, at its regular meeting Tuesday night, rejected a proposal to dedicate $4.2 million per year for 30 years from hospitality fee revenue to the construction of Interstate 73.
The margin was one vote, but it wasn’t that close. It was a clear demonstration that six members of council are solid in their determination to vote in the interests of the citizens not special interests.
The vote was a clear defeat for council members Johnny Vaught and Dennis DiSabato, the two on council who drank the Chamber Kool-Aid and spearheaded the effort to dedicate funding to I-73. It wasn’t their idea, but Vaught and DiSabato agreed to ‘carry the water’ for the Chamber and its cronies in this latest effort to obtain local funding for the road. They spilled most of that water.
The question now is, have Vaught and DiSabato destroyed any hope for the Chamber to secure local funding for its pet project?
The effort to secure funding for I-73 from countywide hospitality fees has been four and one-half years in the making. It began in Spring 2017 when former council chairman Mark Lazarus convinced county council to remove the sunset provision from the county ordinance establishing hospitality fee collection.
Lazarus next tried to convince council to dedicate the entire approximately $45 million annual revenue from countywide hospitality fees to fund construction of I-73. However, the people were beginning to be heard as their rejection of Lazarus for reelection in 2018 demonstrated, and Lazarus, in his final days in office, was only able to push through authorization for the county to enter into a funding agreement with the South Carolina Department of Transportation for up to $25 million per year from hospitality fees for I-73 construction.
That funding agreement was immediately challenged by a lawsuit brought by the cities against the county and the agreement was cancelled by county council in late 2019 with no money having ever been sent to SCDOT.
The settlement of that lawsuit included vague language that the county and the cities would work together to try and find alternative means of providing local funding for I-73.
After a break due to the uncertainties of the effects of Covid on local governments, a small group reportedly consisting of Chamber officials, state Rep. Case Brittain, Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune, North Myrtle Beach Mayor Marilyn Hatley and DiSabato began meeting last summer to concoct a new local funding plan for I-73.
The spin at the time was dedicated funding from local governments could be taken to the S. C. General Assembly to lobby for state funds to be appropriated to I-73 construction and that resulting package could be taken to Washington to lobby for federal funds.
That entire concept seems to be upside down logic. Why should local governments be the first to dedicate funding for an interstate highway in an attempt to convince the state and feds they should contribute?

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Horry County Council Members Face Choice on I-73 Funding Resolution – Listen to Voters or Donors?

Horry County Council will vote tonight on a resolution to dedicate funding from locally collected hospitality fees to construction of Interstate 73.
This latest attempt at I-73 funding comes on the heels of a visit last week by Gov. Henry McMaster to the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce at which the governor announced his proposed funding plan for the road.
The governor proposed a plan that included $795 million from state funds, $430 million from federal funds and $350 million in total funds from Horry County, Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach. None of the funds have been appropriated and the sources are generally unidentified.
The governor could not give promises the funds from the state would be appropriated. The only thing he could do was tell the gathering he would ask the General Assembly to appropriate the funds he recommended.
Additionally, none of the state funds will be spent in Horry County. They will be spent in Dillon and Marion counties, according to the governor’s plan. Horry County residents are expected to fund construction of I-73 within the county on their own.
Information from the S. C. Department of Transportation is there are no funds currently available for construction of a new highway. To further complicate the funding problem, the state is on notice from the U. S. Department of Transportation that it must upgrade Interstate 95 from the North Carolina border to the Georgia border. Included in the requirements from the federal government are additional lanes and bridge repair/replacement, all of which are extremely costly items.
SCDOT said the I-95 improvements are the number one project for the agency since failure to meet the federal requirements would cost the state federal highway funds.
After the governor’s visit, the Horry County Administration Committee held a special meeting, called by committee chairman Johnny Vaught, to approve the resolution the council will vote on tonight.
The obvious question for county council tonight is, with 77% of the governor’s proposed funding for Interstate 73 (the state and federal portions) unidentified and unappropriated, and neither Myrtle Beach nor North Myrtle Beach to date having committed funds, why the rush for the county to pass its resolution?
Despite an alleged Chamber poll, which supposedly said 82% of 405 statewide voters responding supported construction of I-73. The internals of the poll have never been released by the Chamber and there is significant reason to believe no such poll exists because it is very difficult to find any voters in Horry County who support spending local raised tax revenue to build the road.
The lack of voter support was demonstrated by a reader poll conducted by a local media outlet recently which showed 67% of those responding did not want local tax funds to be spent on I-73 construction.

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Reasons Behind Russell Fry’s Deafening Silence on I-73 Funding Controversy

(The above picture shows voter response to a request to raise their hands to show support for I-73)

State Rep. Russell Fry, an announced candidate in the upcoming SC 7th Congressional District Republican primary, has been deafeningly silent during the last week’s controversy over funding for the Interstate 73 project.
When Fry announced his candidacy, he said, like incumbent Congressman Tom Rice, he strongly supported the construction of I-73.
During the last week, we have seen an eruption of controversy surrounding a promised visit tomorrow by Governor Henry McMaster to the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce headquarters to make an important announcement on I-73.
First, it was reported by local media that McMaster would announce he was giving $300 million to the I-73 project. Local politicians who want Chamber associated funding for their campaigns such as, county council members Johnny Vaught and Dennis DiSabato, state Rep. Case Brittain, state Sen. Stephen Goldfinch and Rice himself, quickly committed to attending McMaster’s Chamber announcement. All praised McMaster for committing money to I-73. Fry was conspicuous by his silence.
Vaught and DiSabato went one step further. After a DiSabato authored resolution for the county to dedicate $4.2 million per year for 30 years to I-73 was deferred until October 26th by the county’s Administration Committee, which is chaired by Vaught, a special meeting of the committee was called by Vaught for this coming Tuesday to again attempt to pass the resolution. The excuse given for the special called meeting was with the governor bringing $300 million for I-73, it was time for the county to step up with local funding for the road.
However, the two most important people for state appropriations and local appropriations for I-73, Speaker of the House Jay Lucas and County Council Chairman Johnny Gardner, will not be at the Chamber/McMaster event, according to sources I have spoken to.
There are additional problems with the above narrative. The governor cannot commit any funding for I-73. The best he can do is request the SC General Assembly to do so. The county committee can only recommend the entire county council vote to approve funding for I-73.
The $300 million announced is $200 million short of the $500 million a group, reportedly consisting of Brittain, the Chamber, DiSabato and city mayors Brenda Bethune and Marilyn Hatley, said they would seek from the state two weeks ago. The group also requested local governments, primarily the county council along with Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach city councils, to commit a total of $250 million in locally collected tax and fee revenue to I-73. That number is now being reported in media as closer to $180 million.

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