COLUMBIA, S.C. (WSPA) — Business leaders from across the state were at the South Carolina Statehouse Tuesday to urge the House to pass its roads bill. “Roads impact every citizen, their quality of life, our safety, and our economic competitiveness,” said Rick Todd, President and CEO of the South Carolina Trucking Association.
They call themselves the South Carolina Roads Coalition, which includes Michelin North America, Nephron Pharmaceuticals, Sonoco, and the Palmetto Agribusiness Council.
Pete Selleck, President of Michelin North America, said putting budget surplus money toward roads, as lawmakers did last year, is not enough because it’s not enough money to meet the state’s road and bridge needs and because the state needs a consistent source of funding and the state might not have a surplus every year. “If we do not come up with a solid plan this year that is sufficient and sustainable over the long term, we believe that, going forward, it’s going to do significant damage to this state, not just in terms of reduced safety on the roads, which is already a challenge, but more importantly that economic development will begin to seize up, and that’s critical to job creation,” he said.
Lou Kennedy, CEO of Nephron Pharmaceuticals, said, “Last year at this time my dear friend and former colleague, the late Cathy Novinger, pointedly reminded all of us, ‘We don’t need a Welcome to South Carolina sign. We know we’re here based on the condition of our roads.'”
The House bill is on its calendar. Its main sponsor, Rep. Gary Simrill, R-Rock Hill, says he expects the House to debate the bill next week. It’s expected to pass because the House passed a similar bill two years ago.
The question will be what will happen to it when it gets to the state Senate. Sen. Tom David, R-Beaufort, filibustered to block road bills the last two years. He doesn’t think the state needs to raise taxes for roads.
“When I first came to the Senate in 2009, we spent $1 billion a year on roads and bridges,” he says. “This current year we’re going to be spending $2.3 billion on roads and bridges. So you’ve seen 130 percent increase in funding for roads in South Carolina during the time I’ve been in this Senate. What you haven’t seen are the results you would expect as a result as a consequence of that, and that’s because our SCDOT and the State Infrastructure Bank, the agencies that actually spend the money we appropriate, they’re politically-driven. They spend money based on politics. They don’t spend money based on need or an objective assessment of what needs to be done, and until you fix that, until you go ahead and make sure that dollars being collected are being spent in accordance with needs, why are we going to raise taxes by 75 percent and dump another billion dollars into a system that has shown it can’t address our needs?”
However, he says Rep. Simrill and House Speaker Jay Lucas, a co-sponsor of the House bill, have added to it some DOT reforms. “It isn’t a straight-up revenue bill like it was when it was first filed; it’s now become a reform bill as well. So I’ll take a look at it when it crosses over, but I’m encouraged by the leadership they’ve shown in that regard,” Sen. Davis says.
The House bill would raise the gas tax by 10 cents a gallon, with it going up two cents a year for five years. It would also raise the current $300 sales tax limit on vehicles to $500, and increase and create other fees as well. Supporters say there’s no way to meet the state’s road needs without more money, since the state’s gas tax hasn’t gone up since 1987, while the cost of asphalt, labor, and other road maintenance and building costs have gone up.