South Carolina road funding solutions again on front burner

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 2/8/2016

A plan at the South Carolina statehouse to raise $650 million per year to benefit the state’s road and bridge needs is expected to get further consideration this week.

The Senate Finance Committee is scheduled to take up the transportation funding issue for consideration on Tuesday, Feb. 9. Officials from the state Department of Transportation and State Transportation Infrastructure Bank are expected to be a part of the conversation.

Efforts to increase the state’s 16-cent-per-gallon fuel tax rate have had a difficult time gaining traction at the statehouse over the past few years.

Gov. Nikki Haley has insisted that a fuel tax increase will not see the light of day unless tax breaks are enacted elsewhere, and reforms are made at the state DOT.

With that in mind, the full Senate could soon take up for consideration a bill to raise $440 million via a 12-cent-per-gallon increase in the state’s fuel tax. Another $200 million would be raised through vehicle fee increases.

As requested by the Republican governor, the state’s income tax rate would also be trimmed by nearly $400 million.

In addition, the governor would also be given the power to appoint all the state’s DOT commissioners. The state Senate would need to confirm commissioners.

Currently, the state Legislature has appointment power.

With an overall transportation funding solution on shaky ground, a separate effort calls for putting toll booths on a portion of Interstate 95 to pay for road widening and repairs.

A Democrat representing Clarendon County has introduced a bill to require the state Department of Transportation to charge highway users to access I-95 where it crosses Lake Marion in either Orangeburg County or Clarendon County.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association opposes the legislative effort led by Rep. Robert Ridgeway III. The truckers group says the toll location would effectively prevent diversion because going around the lake would be “impractical.”

“The proposed toll collection location is clearly intended to target through traffic, which will undoubtedly have a disproportionate impact on commercial trucks,” said OOIDA Director of State Legislative Affairs Mike Matousek. “This is simply wrong.”

Instead, OOIDA has communicated to state lawmakers that a better option to raise revenue for transportation would focus on the state’s gas and diesel excise tax rate.

The I-95 toll bill, HB4731, is in the House Ways and Means Committee.

To view other legislative activities of interest for South Carolina, click here.

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