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Tuesday, June 3, 2014
Four Republican candidates and one Democratic candidate are running to represent S.C. House District 84, currently held by Roland Smith, who is set to retire when his term expires in January. The South Carolina primary will be held on June 10. The Aiken Standard sent an identical set of questions to each candidate – Republicans Chris Corley, Adam Mestres, Rick Turnbull and Lance Weaver, and Democrat Rosie Berry. Weaver did not respond. Berry’s name will not be listed on the June ballot, but her answers are listed out of fairness. Some answers were condensed because of space limitations.
• What do you see as the best fix for improving our roads and bridges?
Corley: The S.C. Department of Transportation is very inefficient with a lot of waste and “pet” projects that take funding away from greater needs.
Mestres: An analysis should be conducted in order to rate our roadways – placing them in a prioritized list based on immediate threats to life and safety, remaining working-life capacity, roadway usage, number of homes or businesses and costs to repair and/or improve.
Turnbull: A complete evaluation of the need to repair and the extent of the repair necessary for each road and bridge should be conducted. These results should be rated and compiled with safety being the No. 1 priority. The amount of vehicles that travel per day should be a deciding factor of where on the list the repair is to be ranked.
Berry: “It’s possible to convert roads to toll roads that exempt S.C. drivers that would generate revenue. Once the repairs are complete, the tolls could be removed. There should be a gradual step increase over a five-year period on the automobile, airplane and boat sales tax beyond the current $300 cap. When the economy is doing well the tax could increase slightly and when the economy is not thriving, the sales tax would remain the same.
• Would your solution involve increasing the so-called “gas tax?”
Corley: I would make sure we had cut all possible waste before considering a gas tax increase.
Mestres: I’m not in favor of raising the state excise tax on gasoline. I trust that with good budgetary oversight and the correct measures in place, we can fix these issues without raising taxes.
Turnbull: No. There should be no new taxes whatsoever for anything. South Carolina enjoys many benefits of having one of the top 10 lowest gas rates in the country today. The resulting lower fuel costs attracts motorists in droves from the higher-taxed states.
Berry: I say no to increasing the so-called “gas tax” due to the many benefits our state has as a result of lower gas prices.
• How would you promote job growth and economic development in our community?
Corley: We need a business-friendly tax environment in South Carolina that creates real tax incentives to draw new business, reduces the capital gains tax to zero, eliminates all earmarks within the budget and moves South Carolina toward the Fair Tax.
Mestres: When industry explores the possibility of locating in a particular community, they examine everything that may affect their development. Schools, hospitals, overall population versus an employable workforce and existing retail are the biggest factors. I believe the best approach to attract economic development is through well-managed incentives.
Turnbull: I would continue to seek out new industries and work with Aiken Technical College. I would promote District 84 as an untapped resource to capitalize on the ever-growing resource of our aging population. There are several inexpensive beautiful tracts of land available for large retirement communities to take advantage of.
Berry: There is a vision to repurpose the Warrenville Mill. USC Aiken will offer an engineering degree. USCA and Aiken Tech continue to prepare workers for local companies. While still needing employment in lower-paying jobs such as retail and fast food, we must support the development of small businesses, educate and retrain people for skilled and high-quality jobs, raise teacher pay and build modern schools to attract families.
• How would you strengthen the education system in our state?
Corley: We need school choice in South Carolina, and to be fiscally responsible with our money so that we are not as dependent on federal dollars. Federal regulations that are attached to federal funds have handcuffed our hard working teachers. We need to ensure that the most money possible is going into the classroom, especially teacher’s pay, and eliminate waste at the administrative level.
Mestres: I think our lawmakers are on the right track. The House recently discussed dropping the National Common Core Standards. I am confident that having a new set of state standards will better allow our school-aged children to succeed in grade school and be prepared for college or entering the workforce as an employable citizen.
Turnbull: More money is not necessarily always the right answer and we know that. I would take another look at the new Common Core that is not yet fully implemented and interview local educators as to their opinions. National Common Core may hold some of the answers, but a Global Common Core with the educational elite countries should be the goal.
Berry: Dollars spent on K-12 students in Aiken County are traceable to the classroom. Building schools requires the tax support of the people within the county, either through bond referendums or the penny sales tax.
• What’s the most needed reform of state government?
Corley: The overhaul of our welfare system, including mandatory random drug tests for all welfare recipients 18 years old and older. Instant electronic fingerprint scanning with all food stamp purchases. No luxury items can be purchased with food stamps, including any item that derives 25 percent of their total calories from sugar.
Mestres: Entitlements are one of the most crucial reform measures we need to be looking at in order to curb unnecessary spending and allow for reallocation of funds to critical areas such as education and roads and bridges. I’m not of the belief that state entitlements need to be completely eliminated, as there is a small portion of the population that truly need such subsidy. However, I’m a firm believer that strict measures need to be put in place to get a handle on this out-of-control issue.
Turnbull: Term limits and a new way to allow the public access to a total transparency of our state government.
Berry: The recent report of the deaths of children under the care of the state’s Department of Social Services, or DSS, continues to shame this state. Evaluation practices that hold agencies accountable need to be transparent. DSS needs to be restructured.
Michael Ulmer is the Opinions page editor for the Aiken Standard.