SC Legislative Update – March 8

Gas Tax/Roads Bill

The House has passed an increase in the state’s gas tax, similar to the bill they passed last year. The House’s version increases the gas tax by two cents each year over the next five years.  Each penny on gasoline and diesel fuel brings in $35 million annually.  The bill also adds an annual fee for hybrid and electric cars as well as increases the sales tax cap on automobiles sold to $500 from the now cap of $300.

The bill is now to be debated in the Senate Finance Committee next Tuesday mornng, where it faces a less than certain future.  The road improvement bill is supported by virtually every business group and major industry.  It is opposed mainly by out of state interests.  Both North Carolina and Georgia increased their gas taxes last year.  It remains to be seen if the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce can beat back the out of state money opposing the tax.

State Pension Plan

If you think the state’s roads are bumpy, you ought to take a ride down “State Pension Trail.”  The state’s pension is about $25 BILLION underfunded.  The plan covers 550,000 current and former state, county and municipal employees from cops to college professors.  Their share of the contribution is nearly the highest in the nation.  Add to this, the fact that both bodies have passed differing plans that must be worked out in a conference committee of Representatives and Senators.

Plastic Bag Bill

The bill prohibiting cities and counties from enacting local laws to restrict restaurants and grocery stores from providing plastic bags to customers was killed yesterday.  The legislation was heavily pushed and promoted by Speaker Jay Lucas on behalf of Sunoco.  Sunoco is based in Hartsville, which is home to the Speaker.

Most observers thought the bill would be passed by the House and would have a rough time in the Senate.  Opposition to the bill came from mayors and county council members.  The bill was also in the crosshairs of the environmental lobbyists.  The vote was non-partisan, as it was more or less geography based with the coastal members voting against and the inland legislators voting in favor of the bill.  By the way, the bill lost on a tie vote.  Most of our peers do not think this has happened in at least 50 years.