By David Meade
Local businessman and current Williamston Council Member, Rockey Burgess formally announced his candidacy for the S.C. Senate 4th District seat. Burgess spoke to a group of about 20 people gathered to hear his announcement at the Williamston Municipal Center last Friday. Burgess laid out a simple platform based on tax relief, improving infrastructure and his experience in local government.
“I believe the best government is that which governs least,” Burgess said. “The citizens of this state demand that their government be held accountable to the citizens that it represents, to have open and transparent discussion about the issues that affect their lives, and to operate within the confines of a balanced budget that serves the needs of the citizenry while not overbudening the taxpayer.”
“Citizens demand that any taxes or fees collected by the state be used appropriately and for the purpose specified in the law.”
Burgess said first issue on his agenda is income tax relief for citizens and businesses. He said that SC income tax rate of 7 percent is more than the North Carolina rate of 5.75 percent and Georgia at 6 percent and that the state income tax needs to be competitive with neighboring states for SC to grow economically and produce more jobs.
“In order for our state to grow economically and produce more jobs for our citizens, we must have an income tax rate that is competitive with our neighbors.”
Second he said, state infrastructure needs to be addressed, particularly roads and highways. “There has been considerable debate as to how to fix our failing infrastructure system but rarely does our legislature have the courage to take action to fix the problem.”
Burgess said he supports the governor’s proposal to increase the gas tax, but only if it is offset equally by a cut in the income tax.
“Our legislators must take action to ensure that revenues generated by an increase in the gasoline tax is fairly distributed among the counties of this state and is spent for the specific purpose that it was intended and to provide oversight to eliminate waste. I believe that if we do these things, we can dramatically improve our roads and bridges throughout the state.”
He also said his experiences as a member of town council have enlightened him on the importance of local government, and that it is important that the state legislature provide each municipality with the tools and the freedom to effectively and efficiently govern citizens.
Burgess said if elected, “There will be no stronger advocate in government than me.” He cited his experience in law enforcement, local government and as a business owner which he said will help him if elected to the Senate seat.
Burgess followed his announcement with questions from the audience.
When asked about going from local government to state government, Burgess said, “I know I could be more effective on a state level,” adding that what he has learned on the local level, such as use of the hospitality tax and other expericences, have given him an insight that he feels is missing.
Burgess said our state government in Columbia is run by attorneys, doctors and lawyers “who do not understand the impact their decisions have on businesses and citizens.”
Responding to a question on school spending, Burgess said it is “more important to focus on the education of our students and having highly educated teachers” than spending exorbitant amounts on buildings.
He also said the state needs ethics reforms, especially in dealing with senators, who oversee themselves.
“It is extremely important for people to trust their government. Here in Williamston the local government is honest and open. it is very important that people know what is going on.. I will take that to Columbia,” he said.
He said he wants public education to succeed, but also supports school choice.
He cited spending in School District One, which has one of the lowest per pupil spending rates in the state, to school districts in the lower part of the state which have some of the highest per pupil spending.
“Students in District One receive a top notch education,” he said. “Money is not always the answer.”
“Parents should have the right to pull those students from those schools and send them to any school they want.”
He said some allocation should follow a child to that school, but not all.
He also said education is a local issue. “The federal government has no business telling us how to run our schools,” he said “Some off the wall guidelines limits parents ability to help the child.”
Burgess, 40, was elected to Williamston Town Council in April 2013. He is a lifelong resident of Williamston and small business owner. He is a board member of Envision Williamston and chairs the Ordinance Review Committee.
He and his wife, Wendy have three children, Austin, Sophia, & Channing.
Burgess was a 2015 recipient of the Anderson Independent Mail’s 20 under 40 award. He has previously served as an Anderson County Sheriff’s Deputy as well as in the SC Army National Guard.
Candidate filing for the District 4 Senate seat opens Jan. 22 and closes Saturday, February 20. The Special Election to fill the unexpired seat left open by the unexpected death of Senator “Billy” O’Dell, will be held on May 17.