Viewpoints: Why the Chamber’s on the Wrong Side of Almost Everything

April 22, 2014

Inside Insight

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Chamber of commerce

‘PRO-BUSINESS’ ≠ THE FREE MARKET

What’s the difference between the terms “pro-free market” and “pro-business”? The former refers to policies that limit or remove government interference in economic activity: low taxes, fewer regulations, the absence of government subsidies, etc. The term “pro-business,” by contrast, can mean almost anything. For the state Chamber of Commerce – as well as a number of local Chambers – it usually means more government spending; government interference in education and health care; and wealth redistributions from taxpayers to favored businesses.

Here are just a few examples of issues where the state Chamber has sided with big government.

More government funding for basically everything. Over half of the items listed on the Chamber’s “2014 Competitiveness Agenda” ask for more government funding and involvement. Just to name a few, the Chamber asks for more tax dollars to be spent on early childhood education, readySC, SmartState, the Department of Commerce Closing Fund (taxpayer dollars given directly to large corporations – the most flagrant form of corporate welfare), and government advertising for tourism and “agritourism.”

The biggest spending item it advocates has to do with transportation – apparently regardless of how that money is collected and spent. Last year, the General Assembly passed and the governor signed a transportation bill that sent $50 million to the State Infrastructure Bank (SIB) to be bonded for an estimated $500 million. Not only did this create $500 million in new debt, the money is in the hands of the SIB, which historically has not funded road repair but road expansions. The Chamber called this new spending – also known as “debt” – a “great first step.”

Continued State Implementation of Obamacare. The Chamber came out in clear opposition to Senator Tom Davis’s Affordable Care Act Anti-Commandeering amendment to H.3101, which would have prohibited state officials and employees from aiding in the implementation of some ACA provisions. Moreover, it would have created a process by which all federal funds tied to ACA would have to be openly explained and individually voted on.

The ACA is an affront to businesses across South Carolina; the federal law limits their freedom and increases their costs. Yet the Chamber, while billing as “pro-business,” directly and openly opposed a measure designed to blunt Obamacare’s effects.

Nationalized Academic Standards (Common Core). The Chamber supported the state’s adoption of Common Core standards in 2010 and has continued its support ever since. In a February 4, 2014 letter to Senate Education Subcommittee Chairman Wes Hayes, the Chamber voiced opposition to proposed legislation that would prohibit the use of Common Core standards in South Carolina. The bottom of the letter even contained a list of companies that support Common Core—notably Boeing, Duke Energy, Exxon Mobil, Michelin, and Palmetto Health.

Not surprisingly, the bill the Chamber was likely referring to, S.300, was soon amended to continue the implementation of Common Core in South Carolina. The Chamber, in effect, thwarted the efforts of thousands of parents, teachers, and students in South Carolina who wanted state-developed academic standards instead of nationalized standards over which parents and teachers can have no control.

To be fair, the Chamber has the right to advocate for whatever it wants – just as any organization does. At the same time, it’s fair to point out that its allegedly “pro-business” policies often look more like old-fashioned wealth redistribution than anything remotely like free-market economics. A little truth in advertising wouldn’t hurt.

Editor’s note: Jones is a policy analyst with the South Carolina Policy Council, the parent organization of The Nerve.