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After almost an hour of heated debate with County Council Chairman Fred Thomas, Sen. Mick Mulvaney left the council chambers scratching his head in confusion Wednesday night.
“That was the strangest hour and a half I’ve ever been a part of,” Mulvaney said after the meeting.
Attending the special council meeting were most of county council, County Administrator Steve Willis, Lancaster County Economic Development Corp. President Keith Tunnel, District 45 House Rep.Deborah Long and Mulvaney.
The meeting was supposed to cover economic incentives, such as the issue of boosting Job Development Credits, or JDCs, which are used to reward businesses who move into the county. But the discussion fell apart as Thomas began questioning Mulvaney’s motives behind a bill that could potentially eliminate JDCs. Mulvaney had originally been invited to speak to County Council about current economic development legislation.
The debate came as Mulvaney discussed a meeting he had with Thomas and S.C. Department of Commerce Secretary Joe Taylor in Columbia last week. The topic of the meeting involved extending the duration of JDCs offered to businesses throughout the state.
These incentives return a portion of payroll taxes companies pay, depending on the amount of employees in the company. But because JDCs are considered discretionary, there is no set duration for the incentives. Many companies receive the incentives for 10 years, though Mulvaney and Thomas discussed ways to make a permanent change to 15 years.
Thomas took issue with Mulvaney recently co-authoring a piece of legislation that would eliminate JDCs. Mulvaney defended the decision for several reasons.
For one, he said the bill has been introduced in some way for the last seven years, but never
passed. Mulvaney said the bill has not been assigned to a committee and is probably “dead on arrival.”
Mulvaney said he joined the bill mainly to “keep on the good side” of Gov. Mark Sanford, not because he agreed with the bill in its entirety, and hoped his participation could possibly help to keep the University of South Carolina at Lancaster open.
He also said he was more interested in another part of the bill, which would have removed corporate income tax in the state as an incentive for all businesses.
He said this was important because 85 percent of businesses in the state have fewer than 15 employees, and as such do not qualify for JDCs, which require at least 20 employees.
Thomas took offense to Mulvaney’s actions and asked why he had never heard of this bill. He asked if eliminating JDCs was an appropriate action.
“This would cripple poor counties and underdeveloped counties,” Thomas said.
Mulvaney explained that the bill had no chance of passing, but Thomas continued to ask questions about Mulvaney’s involvement.
“It’s bad business when a legislator authors legislation when they don’t support it. Politically you’re unaccountable and you ran on accountability,” Thomas said. “How do we know what you feel on a bill?”
Mulvaney said he was confused about why he was actually called to the meeting. He said the discussion had become about him, instead of economic development, and wondered why so much attention was being paid to a bill that won’t pass.
“You don’t have to worry about a bill that would kill JDCs. I feel like I’m at a subcommittee hearing for a bill that’s about to be passed,” Mulvaney said. “I’m not sure where you’re going with this, Mr. Thomas.”
Thomas expressed his displeasure for not finding out about the bill until last week.
“I didn’t get a call, economic development didn’t get a call, none of us got a call,” Thomas said. “That could’ve avoided the problem.”
Mulvaney said the issue should have been discussed before it got to this point.
“You were in my office when you learned about this and could’ve asked,” Mulvaney said. “But that’s not what happened. Someone left and started making calls and sending e-mails.”
Councilman Larry Honeycutt interrupted the argument before standing up and leaving the meeting.
“I don’t think he’s (Mulvaney) here for us to roast him,” Honeycutt said. “I’m not interested in all this other rigamarole to find out.”
Thomas said he wanted to find out more information.
“I called this meeting to decide what this is all about, you don’t get to decide what it’s about,” Thomas said.
Honeycutt asked for a 15 minute break, which Thomas denied. Honeycutt then left the meeting for about 15 minutes.
Thomas ended the meeting with a challenge for Mulvaney, asking him to propose legislation that says all distressed counties, as Lancaster County is now designated, should automatically qualify for 15-year JDCs.
After the meeting, Mulvaney said he was baffled about why a meeting was even called and didn’t understand the discussion that ensued. He said he only participated in the piece of legislation in question because it raised awareness about JDCs and the issue of the corporate tax.
“I wanted a way to treat homegrown businesses as good as businesses that come from out of state,” Mulvaney said.
Thomas later said he didn’t like the legislative process, calling it “indirect and roundabout,” but “applauded” Mulvaney’s efforts to address the issue of JDCs.
“He’s made it quite clear he’s looking for ways to keep JDCs a viable option,” Thomas said.
Contact reporter Chris Sardelli at 416-8416