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Protecting Beaufort County's three military establishments and preventing automatic defense spending cuts through the "sequestration" process are among the Beaufort Chamber of Commerce's top goals for 2013.
Speaking before about 70 chamber members Tuesday at the group's annual legislative reception, board chairman Frankie Denmark reiterated the bases' importance to the region's economy.
"I can't say anything more than that," he said. "Look at where Beaufort County would be without the military bases."
State Sens. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, and Chip Campsen, R-Charleston County, and state Rep. Bill Bowers, D-Hampton, took questions from the audience and offered their goals for the 2013 legislative session.
Retired Col. Jack Snider and Jon Rembolt of the chamber's Military Enhancement Committee also provided an update of the group's progress and its expectations for the coming years.
Snider said the committee and its Washington D.C.-based consultant are following the ongoing negotiations on the so-called fiscal cliff and planning a response in case military cuts are included in any "grand bargain" between parties.
That plan includes trying to reach decision-makers early in the process if it appears military cuts are on the table, he said.
Beyond immediate budget questions, Snider said the region will be in a "long-term fight" over bases and military installations.
"We think ... (base closures) will be part of any long-term bargain, that it has to happen to reduce the infrastructure," he said.
The group said it will prepare for any national base closure review by rallying local officials and being prepared to "impact" decision-makers in Washington.
"We will stand, we will wait, and make sure we tell our story when it is the right time," said Snider, who said the next base closure process was likely three to five years away.
2013 LEGISLATIVE SESSION
Davis supports revisions to the education funding formula and meaningful sales and property tax reform, but offered little hope major change was likely this year. And he remains wholly opposed to Act 388, under which owner-occupied homes pay a lower tax rate than second homes, rental properties and commercial and industrial properties. The higher rate charged to these properties helps fund local school systems.
Davis said its repeal is almost impossible, however, he said the legislature could find other ways to provide relief to property owners who pay a higher rate because of the law.
Campsen, whose redrawn district stretches from Charleston County to Port Royal Sound, generally agreed with Davis on Act 388 and on sales tax reform. Eliminating certain loopholes remains a challenge in part because of heavy lobbying from industries that would be affected, he said.
Bowers, a self-described tax-policy wonk who represents parts of Beaufort, Jasper and Hampton counties, wants to change how the state incentivizes development.
Asked about the Gov. Nikki Haley's refusal to set up a health insurance exchange under the "Obamacare" health reform law, Bowers said he disagreed, while Campsen and Davis oppose the law and support the governor's position.
OTHER 2013 CHAMBER GOALS
On the state level, the chamber supports comprehensive tax reform and revisions to the school funding formulas that many believe put coastal counties at a disadvantage.
Locally, the group wants to streamline the permitting process and work to keep business taxes and fees from rising.