COLUMBIA, SC — While calls continue for Gov. Nikki Haley to share details her state roads plan, House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford put his cards on the table to help with the $29 billion shortfall in statewide repairs.
The Columbia Democrat said Wednesday that he plans to introduce legislation next year to allow casinos in the Myrtle Beach area to raise money for roads. He said that 80 percent of Democratic voters supported the idea in a non-binding question on the June 10 primary ballot.
Rutherford pitched the idea after hearing Haley, a Republican who is facing re-election this year, promise a roads fix but offer no specifics during a campaign press conference Tuesday.
“If you’re going to have a plan, you need to have a plan,” he told The State newspaper. “Here’s one.”
Rutherford agrees with Haley on trying to find ways to pay for roads without raising South Carolina's near national-low state gas tax.
“Anyone who loves individual freedom, personal liberty, and lower taxes should get behind this issue 110 percent,” Rutherford said.
Rutherford said Myrtle Beach is perfect for casinos with the added attractions of the beach and dozens of golf courses as well as major roads, including the proposed I-73. The Grand Strand has more land to build a casino than other parts of the S.C. coast, he said. Rutherford could see the area accommodating up to three casinos.
The bill would allow only major casinos to avoid turning the state into “a gambling dump with slot machines in every gas station,” he said.
The Grand Strand, the largest visitor destination in South Carolina’s $17 billion tourism industry, already offers some gambling attractions. A pair of casino cruise boats that take gamblers to international waters already operate out of Little River, north of Myrtle Beach.
The Catawba Indian Nation has sought a casino on its York County reservation, but the state Supreme Court – citing laws banning video gambling – ruled against the state’s only federally recognized Native American tribe this year
Democratic gubernatorial challenger Vincent Sheheen did not rule out casinos. The Camden attorney said “every option should be open for discussion” to pay for road repairs expected to cost more than $1 billion annually over the next 20 years.
“If we do consider casinos, however, there must be significant input from local citizens and leaders, as well as strict regulation and safeguards built into the proposal to ensure that South Carolinians are protected, and we don't do more harm than good,” he said.
Haley opposes casinos.
“Legalizing gambling doesn’t solve any problems – it creates them, and Gov. Haley believes South Carolina simply deserves better ideas than that,” her spokesman Doug Mayer said. “The governor, like the majority of South Carolinians, doesn’t support casino gambling and will never take any action that allows it to happen here.”
Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce leaders and several members of the General Assembly representing the Grand Strand did not respond for comment Wednesday.