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State taxes were mentioned early and often by the Republican candidates running for the open District 16 Senate seat.
Those five candidates discussed tax rates, government restructuring and a host of other issues Monday evening during the Before You Vote forum, held in the multipurpose room at the Bradley Arts and Sciences Building at the University of South Carolina at Lancaster.
Brian Carnes, Greg Gregory, Rob McCoy, Wendy Petzel and Mike Short took turns answering questions on a rotating basis. The idea of raising taxes to increase state revenue was tackled first.
Gregory, who held the District 16 seat from 1992 to 2008, said the government has to operate on a tight budget just like businesses and families do, and “make do with the revenues we have.”
McCoy said the state has to stop growing its government.
“I don’t think we need to be bailing out golf tournaments in Hilton Head for $10 million,” McCoy said, referring to the Legislature’s decision to lend $10 million to keep the Heritage golf tournament in South Carolina.
Petzel said agency heads need to cut back on wasteful spending.
“There’s a lot we can do before we ever have to raise taxes,” she said.
Short said each state agency should have its budget cut by 50 percent and would have to then prove why it should receive further funding.
Carnes said the state needs to rein in government spending and consolidate agencies.
A problem is that “there is no restraint in the Legislature,” he said.
The candidates later discussed Act 388, which a few years ago cut property taxes for schools in favor of an added penny sales tax.
Short said the law needs to be repealed.
“It’s the biggest mistake we ever made in the state,” he said. “Schools are getting unclear signals (on revenue flow) from the state.”
Petzel said she doesn’t want to see property taxes raised.
“We do have to cut back several aspects of education and lower corporate taxes,” she said.
McCoy, like Short, believes Act 388 should be repealed.
“It’s been troublesome for the schools,” McCoy said.
Gregory said the law should remain, but needs to be modified.
“I’m in favor of making it work for the people.”
Carnes said the act is great for home owners but not for businesses.
“We need to take a hard look at it,” he said.
Forum moderator Rick Jiran asked if the geographic shape of Senate District 16 should remain unchanged.
District lines are redrawn every 10 years. It’s highly possible that this district – which covers mostly Lancaster County and parts of eastern York County – will look different after this latest reapportionment.
There’s talk of the district extending toward Tega Cay – an idea Carnes doesn’t endorse.
“I do think we need to have a resident senator in Lancaster County,” said Carnes, who lives in Indian Land.
Short said constituents shouldn’t worry about which county their new senator lives in, but should ask if that person will fairly represent all of the district’s residents.
“I think that’s the important thing,” Short said.
Petzel responded similarly.
“Whoever serves you should be serving the whole district equally,” she said.
McCoy simply said “District 16 is going to change.”
Gregory said he has the experience and relationships to ensure that Lancaster County continues to have a resident senator.
“I’ve been through the reapportionment process,” he said.
During the nearly two-hour forum, the five candidates also spoke on government restructuring, unemployment and supporting USCL, among a few other topics.
Each candidate also had a chance to explain why they believe he or she is the best person for the seat.
Gregory touted his experience in the state Senate.
“I’ve got 16 years of helping people with problems,” he said. “I will be effective on Day One.”
Carnes said his time on the Lancaster County school board will be beneficial if elected. He describes himself as a quiet listener.
“You got to sit back and listen and become part of the process,” Carnes said. “I understand the issues and needs that businesses have. I’m very good at budgeting.”
Short, who’s served on the councils for York County and Fort Mill, said experience has its merits. He said he has the passion to serve the people.
“I’m very keen on being responsive to the constituents,” Short said.
Petzel said she would add a needed dynamic, as she would be the only woman in the state Senate if elected.
“I believe it’s important to have a woman’s voice in the state Senate,” she said. “I’m taking this very seriously and studying the issues. I’m a woman of integrity.”
McCoy said he considers himself the Tea Party candidate. As the youngest candidate in the race, he points to his relative youth as an advantage.
“No one would have longer to build up seniority than I would,” he said. “I want to be a salesman for this area.”
Duke Energy, Lancaster County Chamber of Commerce, The Lancaster News and USCL sponsored Monday’s forum, which will air several times before the Feb. 22 primary on LearnTV (Comporium cable channels 18 and 19).
The Republican winner will face Democrat Keith Brann and Libertarian Stan Smith in the April 12 special election.
Contact reporter Jesef Williams at 283-1152