Last year several southeastern states passed legislation raising their gas taxes to maintain and improve their states’ roads. South Carolina, meanwhile, did nothing and has not increased its gas tax in thirty years. At a hearing a few weeks ago, highway experts testified that we are just a few years away from parts of interstates 26, 85 and 95 being perpetual traffic jams and backups. Potential new industries are commenting to business recruiters on the condition of our transportation system. The legislature has to act.
One of the primary reasons South Carolina has not enacted a “Roads Plan” has been Governor Haley’s insistence on an off setting income tax cut. Gas taxes are considered user fees, i.e., the more you drive the more you pay. State taxes like income taxes and sale taxes go to the General Fund to be used for a wide variety of services. User fees like the gas tax, state park admission charges and the white goods disposal/recycling fees go to their respective funds and are used exclusively for those needs. In a lot of legislators minds, income taxes and gas taxes are apples and oranges.
Retiring Senators Ray Cleary (R-Georgetown) and Joel Lourie (D-Richland) worked this fall to craft language that can pass the Senate and be approved by Governor Haley. The “Clourie amendment,” as it is known, is a valiant bi-partisan effort. Their plan when fully implemented would give SC DOT an additional $780 million per year for highways. In a nod to Governor Haley the plan includes a state income tax cut. Both Senators admitted that they knew their parties might not support every part of their amendment. Like most good legislation there is something in it for everyone to hate and everyone to love. Cleary and Lourie want a solution to our road issues and hope this is their legacy. We expect to hear more debate and hopefully see some forward progress in the next several weeks.
The House passed their plan for improving South Carolina roads last session. If the Senate can muster the votes to pass something, a conference committee with members from both bodies will iron out the differences. We will keep you posted.
The House will furlough this week, as they have cleared their calendar and are waiting for the Senate to return the bills they have sent over. Next week, the House Ways and Means Committee will meet and discuss this year’s state budget. We will be paying close attention to this process as we do not want anyone to” sneak” in any SNAP related items.