When the S.C. General Assembly last heard from Tom Davis, he was talking.
And when the legislative session resumes next week, it's safe to assume to Republican state senator from Beaufort will begin talking again in opposition to a possible gas-tax hike and in support of reforming the state's transportation spending.
He got a head start Wednesday at the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce's annual legislative luncheon at Callawassie Island Club, manning the microphone for much of the panel discussion with area state lawmakers, which included a surprise appearance by U.S. Sen. Tim Scott,
State senators will resume consideration of a roads and bridges bill next week that includes raising the state's gas tax. Davis said the transportation spending process is too political and other revenue sources should be considered before a tax hike.
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"After we make those reforms, if it turns out more money is necessary, I'm perfectly willing to put more money in the transportation system," he said. "But I'm not willing to dump more money into a system that has shown itself unable to address our critical needs."
On the table is an additional $1.2 billion in the next state budget.
The lunch panel also included state Reps. Shannon Erickson, Jeff Bradley, Bill Bowers and Kenneth Hodges.
Among the other topics covered:
- Beach renourishment of Hunting Island. At each place-setting was a Hunting Island pledge card. The centerpiece of each table was a plastic cylinder with a depiction of Hunting Island drawn by area school children. Jim Wegmann, chairman of the Beaufort chamber's board of directors, asked that those children have the opportunity to experience the park when they are grown. Denise Parsick of Friends of Hunting Island, said only a small percentage of the area's beach renourishment efforts in the past 30 years have been directed to the state park. Lawmakers said restoring the park's beaches is on their radar.
- The ongoing saga of the Port of Port Royal. Real estate broker Whit Suber, who worked with the most recent group in the most recent unsuccessful attempt to purchase the waterfront property, asked lawmakers how they would ensure the law is followed in directing the sale. Erickson said the law she and Davis helped usher through in 2014 created specific guidelines and that the Department of Administration, which will oversee an impending auction. "We are on the fast track, I hope, with that," Erickson said. Bowers said the town should reconsider its original plan for the property and that the property could remain in state hands as a state park. Hodges said he is concerned a developer will target the prime parcels and leave much of the property undeveloped and the town on the hook.
- Scott touted the importance of northern Beaufort County's military bases and was bullish on the progress of the F-35. "This is a good thing," Scott said. "It is on track." Scott also pushed the need for education decisions to be made locally and for money coming in for education to be used appropriately. The Charleston Republican also addressed a tough year, in which historic flooding in the state claimed lives and caused billions of dollars in damage and nine people were shot to death in a Charleston church. "What we've seen happen in 2015 is that South Carolina rose to the occasion," Scott told reporters after the luncheon. "We saw our state come together in ways that few other locations around this country could come together."