COLUMBIA, S.C. (WSPA) – South Carolina lawmakers say they’re confident they’ll be able to pass a plan this year to fix state roads, after not being able to the last two years. “We’re at the mark of saying we are this close to getting something done, and that’s great for every South Carolinian,” said Rep. Gary Simrill, R-Rock Hill, at the annual meeting of the SC Alliance to Fix Our Roads Monday in Columbia.
A panel of five state senators and five House members discussed the House and Senate bills. The House bill would raise the gas tax by 10 cents a gallon, with it going up by two cents a year for five years. The Senate bill would raise the gas tax by 12 cents a gallon, going up four cents a year for three years.
While a lot of people hate the idea of a tax increase, Sen. Thomas McElveen, D-Sumter, says, “There’s no way to get this done in a revenue-neutral way. And so I ask people all the time, if there’s something that we can cut to come up with these sorts of funds that we know we need to have, tell me what it is. Tell us all what it is, because we sure can’t find it.”
He says the biggest factor that kept lawmakers from passing a bill the last two years was Gov. Nikki Haley’s promise to veto a gas tax increase that did not have with it an even bigger tax cut. “When we have a governor that comes out and says it’s got to be revenue neutral, you could almost feel the air being taken out of the room, because, in my opinion, I think the last few years we’ve had enough votes to pass a bill. The problem is we have not had a veto-proof majority,” Sen. McElveen said.
Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Columbia, said, “When she’s gone, our chances of passing common-sense legislation go up exponentially.” Gov. Nikki Haley has been nominated to be the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. She could step down as governor as early as Tuesday, since that’s when the U.S. Senate is scheduled to vote on her confirmation. Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster would then become governor. He hasn’t stated yet what his position is on a possible gas tax increase.
The House and Senate bills would also add new fees for electric vehicles and hybrids, since they use no or less gasoline but still use state roads. The biggest difference is that the Senate bill includes an income tax cut and a property tax cut for businesses. Sen. Sean Bennett, R-Summerville, the main sponsor of the Senate bill, says the House and Senate aren’t far apart. “When we get together, I think we have a real chance of having a very nice bill that’s going to, first and foremost, provide regular, sustainable flows into DOT that go straight to the roads,” he told the conference.
Sen. Ross Turner, R-Greenville, says he knows a tax increase is very unpopular in the Upstate, but he says about 30 percent of the gas tax would be paid by people from other states who are either driving through or visiting. “If we can get some money from some out-of-state people, we don’t need to be turning our back to that. But to say no to a gas tax puts the burden back on the worker and the guy paying income tax, and that makes no sense to me to continue to pile onto the back of the worker in the state,” he says.