Haley, Sheheen struggle to impress with economic plans at local business gathering

Paul Conner Executive Editor
Font Size:

GREENVILLE, S.C. – With just under 10 weeks before election day, South Carolina gubernatorial candidates each pitched their economic plans to about 200 business leaders Wednesday afternoon – with mixed results.

Republican Nikki Haley and her Democratic opponent Vincent Sheheen talked for 30 minutes each to the business group Upstate S.C. Alliance, and both failed to convince outright those gathered of who is the more business-friendly candidate.

“Like most of the state, we’re just waiting to see,” said one Upstate businessman, who preferred not to be named.

Haley received slightly more money from state businesses than Sheheen late in the primaries. Haley raised just over $107,000 from state business from April 20-June 30 while Sheheen raised just over $90,000 during the same time period, according to a Daily Caller tally.

When asked if either speech had swayed his opinion as to which candidate is more business-friendly, one businessman in attendance answered, “Not from today.”

Haley wants to eliminate the corporate income tax as a part of her push for comprehensive tax reform. She plans to make up for the lost revenue by bringing back a 2.5 percent grocery tax, which was eliminated in South Carolina in 2007.

Sheheen jumped on the idea, blasting it as a blow to the middle class.

“To put a tax on food right now in the midst of a recession and to gut the corporate income tax is not only unwise, but it is also unfair to the working South Carolinians who are trying to make ends meet,” Sheheen said in his speech.

Haley has come under fire from some conservatives for her position.

Sheheen, who trails Haley by 14 points, according to the latest Rasmussen poll, promised to restore trust in the governor’s office and to revamp the state Department of Commerce, a position that Haley also supports.

“To me, Haley’s speech was more tangible,” said another businessman at the event. “Sheheen spoke more in generalities and didn’t really present firm ideas.”

In his speech, Sheheen promised to “go to bat” for the state in asking for federal funding to dredge and expand the Charleston, S.C., port. He also pledged to partner with the private sector to foster economic development, an idea Haley mostly opposes.

Haley, a state representative, highlighted her experience as a corporate accountant and her work with her family’s small business balancing the books. Her undergraduate degree from Clemson University was in accounting as well.

“The one thing we noticed in our family business was how hard it was to make a dollar and how easy it was for government to take it,” Haley said. “My parents always said don’t complain about it, do something about it, so I decided to run for the statehouse. I had never been politically active. I was just a businessperson frustrated with government.”