Michelin head puts Haley in an uncomfortable spot 

Road Worriers

Today marks the 96th inauguration of a South Carolina governor, and, for better or worse, Nikki Haley will take the oath of office yet again and begin her second term as the leader of the Palmetto State and vessel of presidential speculation.

There's a lot that I could write about on this momentous occasion, and a lot of it might seem pretty rote. After all, I've written a lot about Gov. Haley over the past two years, and very little of it complimentary. But this year, I think we could see a different Haley, one who is more in tune with her constituency.

Although it seems like ages ago, only three months have passed since Gov. Haley inadvertently let her true feelings slip during one of the gubernatorial debates. While talking about the continued presence of the Confederate flag on Statehouse grounds, Haley made the fantastic comment that the flag was fine where it was because in her dealings with businesses interested in relocating to South Carolina, she had "not had one conversation with a single CEO about the Confederate flag."

Haley's comments came at an odd time during a Tuesday night debate when I was already preparing a different column — and by the following week, the so-called Melongate scandal was going strong — so I wasn't able to address them back then. Honestly, I'm not really sure how to properly address them now.

For Nikki Haley, the opinions of a few CEOs are more important to her than the opinions of the citizens she is elected to represent. This is either the second-most candid thing Haley has ever said — the first being her emotional testimony at her surprise appearance before the House Ethics Committee when she said that John Rainey, the GOP power-broker who leveled several ethics charges at her, was a "racist, sexist bigot" — or it was simply a horrible attempt at continuing to look like the "jobs governor" on every single issue, no matter how tangentially related the question was to her answer. Either way, she said it and her admission that corporations are her true constituents may come back to haunt her. If she so values the opinions of the CEOs she is constantly in contact with, then surely she has spoken with Michelin North America CEO Pete Selleck. Or, if she hasn't yet, maybe she should after reading Selleck's assessment of South Carolina's roads. To quote Mr. Selleck in The Greenville News, "The roads in this state are a disgrace."

In fact, Selleck believes our roadways are in such a horrible state of disrepair he indicated that the state's current $30 billion shortfall in road funding might force the Upstate tire manufacturer to expand somewhere other than South Carolina.

Think about that: the state's continued failure to upgrade, maintain, or build new roads could cause a company that employs over 9,000 people in South Carolina, has made $2 billion in investments in the state over the last five years, and has a 40-year history here to look for a new place to do business. Or, in other words, our state's race to the bottom stops when the capitalists fall all the way down there and realize that the roads are terrible. But, hey, if it takes that to get them to realize what our elected officials have been doing all over the country for the last two decades, I'm fine with it. What Selleck realizes, and what many other CEOs must realize as well, is that there is no happy ending to their dystopian fantasies about lower taxes and freedom from regulation.

Unfortunately, Selleck thinks the way to do this is on the backs of the poor: by raising the gas tax. Even though I believe in the concept of gas taxes inasmuch as people should pay taxes so that we can have nice things like roads, schools, and municipal golf courses, I don't think that the CEO of a major corporation should float that as his first idea when it comes to raising money to get something his company needs.

Pete Selleck isn't alone. According to a November report from CBS's venerable 60 Minutes on the horrible state of many of America's roads, the push to raise gas taxes has even found its way to "the generally conservative U.S. Chamber of Commerce." The news program aired footage from a U.S. Senate hearing last year in which the head of the U.S. Chamber, Tom Donohue appeared with the AFL-CIO's Richard Trumka to talk about America's infrastructure. As Trumka said to the committee, "If business and labor can come before you united on this issue — and we are united on this issue despite our sharp disagreements on a variety of other matters — I think that should tell everybody something and tell it very loudly."

Trumka's right about that. Hopefully, though, he and other labor leaders will hold out on passing the entire cost of a national road project on to the American taxpayer alone.

As for South Carolina, now that one of Gov. Haley's favored constituents has spoken up, maybe the gap in the funding for our state's roads can be closed.

And just imagine how she'll feel when she reads about Amazon's Jeff Bezos thoughts on gay marriage.


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