COLUMBIA, SC (WSPA) — The debate over South Carolina’s yearly gas tax increase has been renewed.

This week, Democratic candidate for Governor and former Congressman Joe Cunningham urged the South Carolina General Assembly to temporarily suspended the gas tax until the end of the fiscal year.

“Gas prices are out of control and we have to get creative about how to lessen the burden on South Carolina families,” said Cunningham. “By suspending the gas tax and supplementing the lost revenue with American Rescue Plan funds or money from the state’s $1 billion budget surplus, we can help South Carolinians keep more money in their pocket without delaying or jeopardizing a single infrastructure project.”

According to Cunningham, the cost of gas in South Carolina has reached a 7-year high. He said pandemic-related issues have slowed production and distribution of oil around the world.

The South Carolina Department of Transportation sent out this statement:

The South Carolina Department of Transportation has received questions concerning a proposal that suggests suspending the state gas tax for the next eight months and instead backfilling the $612 Million void with other funds to be appropriated by the state legislature.  While the politics surrounding the gas tax continue to swirl leading up to the next elections, I want to explain the real impacts of such a proposal.

There is a major misconception that projects can be kept on track and this would be a simple funding exchange. This is simply not correct.  The legislative process to consider – much less approve – such a measure as dedicating replacement funds to SCDOT will not take place until next year. This means that state funding would not be accessible to pay for projects and other roadworks until after July 2022 or eight months from now.  That’s eight months with no state funding to pay for new paving projects, new bridge projects, no ability to pay for day-to-day maintenance work on South Carolina’s extensive roadway network, and financially the biggest blow would be to SCDOT’s ability to provide the matching funds to draw down $1 Billion in federal infrastructure dollars.

This proposal would derail that state’s efforts to improve and upgrade our infrastructure by introducing a major cash flow crunch into a program that was designed through many years of debate and discussion by the state’s policymakers.  The state currently has $3.4 Billion in road work happening all across the Palmetto state and is set to continue to advance much more over the next year.

Secretary of Transportation Christy A. Hall

Governor Henry McMaster’s campaign responded to the proposal as well this week. They also blamed President Joe Biden for the increase in gas prices.

“The Governor vetoed the increase on gas taxes, so he’s clearly not in favor of them, but let’s be clear here: since Joe Biden took office the average price of gasoline in this country has increased by more than a full dollar.  Biden, who Cunningham endorsed for president, has ravaged our ability to produce gas at home, leaving us reliant on Middle-eastern and Russian oil and made disastrous decisions that have caused inflation to skyrocket, a problem that will only worsen if Democrats pass the $1.75 trillion monstrosity, which Biden and Cunningham support. Joe Cunningham’s friends have created this problem, and he’s certainly not capable of fixing it.”

Mark Knopp, Campaign Manager for McMaster

Right now, South Carolinians pay 26 cents for every gallon of gas to cover the Motor Fuel User Fee. That is set to increase another two cents in July 2022. This is the final scheduled increase to the gas tax started in 2017.

Cunningham shared this statement after DOT’s and the Governor’s response:

“South Carolinians are not interested in lectures from an administration that has given us the worst roads in the nation. If we could fill potholes with McMaster’s excuses, our roads would have been fixed a long time ago. Governor McMaster’s opposition to the federal infrastructure bill that will send an additional $6 billion in new funding to our state demonstrates his lack of commitment to this issue. My proposal to temporarily suspend the gas tax to help South Carolinians with rising gas prices and use the billions of new federal dollars to supplement the loss in revenue will not affect a single road project. It can be done and it will mean lower costs on South Carolina families at a critical time of need.”

Joe Cunningham, Democratic candidate for Governor