Haley Signs Highway Funding Bill - WSPA.com

Haley Signs Highway Funding Bill

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South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley has signed a bill she says could raise up to $1 billion to improve the state's roads and bridges. (sc.gov) South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley has signed a bill she says could raise up to $1 billion to improve the state's roads and bridges. (sc.gov)

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley signed into law Monday a bill that will spend hundreds of millions of dollars on improving state roads and bridges. "The best part about this is South Carolina did this without raising taxes," she said before signing the bill.

Instead, the law will shift some money that, until now, had been spent elsewhere.  For example, starting July 1, the new law will transfer $50 million a year from the General Fund to the Transportation Infrastructure Bank. That group will then use that money to borrow up to $500 million for roads and bridges.

Also, half of the money collected from the sales tax on vehicles will now go to roads instead of into the General Fund. That's expected to be $41.4 million in the coming fiscal year, which starts July 1.

And up to $50 million in surplus revenues at the end of this fiscal year will be sent to the SCDOT to serve as a state match for bridge projects that qualify for federal matching money.

The governor signed the bill at the state Chamber of Commerce, which had been pushing for the state to improve roads and bridges. Business leaders say if the state had not made a commitment to improving its highways, it would have hurt business and the state's ability to recruit new jobs.

Lewis Gossett, president and CEO of the South Carolina Manufacturers Alliance, said at the signing, "We think that this is … a down payment. There is more work to be done, but it is a great step forward and it is the first step that we've seen in many years."

Some Republicans were concerned about borrowing so much money, while other lawmakers were concerned that borrowing $500 million would not provide an ongoing, reliable way to pay for the state's road needs. The SCDOT says it needs $29 billion over 20 years, or $1.45 billion a year, just to bring the state's roads and bridges up to a level it would consider "good".

When asked what the state will do after the $500 million has been spent, since that's only about one-third of what the SCDOT says it needs for one year, Gov. Haley said, "Every agency says they need more money. That's part of government. That is what bureaucracy is. Our job is how do you make the most of a dollar? And so what we are doing today is we're saying we are making it a priority."

SCDOT secretary Robert St. Onge said, "This is not one-year money. This is a bill and a budget and there's recurring value to it. It's going to be out there for a long time. And we'll take an assessment, as legislatures and governors' offices do, and say, 'Hmm, well we got this far. What's next and how can we make this better?' And they'll come up with another plan to advance this at the appropriate time, in my humble opinion."

The state's current gas tax of 16 cents a gallon is among the lowest in the nation and hasn't been raised since 1987. According to the SCDOT, each penny of sales tax brings in about $32 million. That means in order to generate the $1.45 billion a year that the SCDOT says it needs, the gas tax would have to go up by 45 cents a gallon, if the gas tax were the sole method of raising the additional money.


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