A road funding solution for South Carolina remains a possibility with less than one month remaining before the Legislature’s projected adjournment.
The Senate voted 34-4 to advance a bill that avoids new taxes or fees to pay for highway projects. Specifically, the bill headed to the House for consideration relies on borrowing about $2 billion over the next 10 years to get road and bridge work done.
One project highlighted for completion is Malfunction Junction. The massive project is intended to alleviate congestion problems at the convergence of Interstate 20 and 26 in Columbia.
Attention would also be given to eliminating load-restricted bridges on state secondary roads.
The current version of the Republican-led effort, S1258, relies on $200 million annually from the state’s sales tax on vehicles, as well as other fees, to bond about $2.2 billion through the Transportation Infrastructure Bank.
The bonded money would be prioritized by the South Carolina Department of Transportation over the next decade.
Critics say the bill serves as a “Patch Act.” They say it does little to address the state’s long-term road needs.
Instead, they sought an increase to the state’s fuel tax rate. The 16.75-cent-per-gallon rate hasn’t changed since 1987.
The state now receives $481 million each year through the tax.
SCDOT Secretary Christy Hall says the bonding plan would free up additional revenue to get $4 billion worth of work done over the next decade.
Also included in the road plan is reform in state DOT governance. Appointment power of highway commissioners would be the sole responsibility of the governor’s office.
Currently, the DOT secretary is appointed by the governor while the commissioners are appointed by state lawmakers.
H3579 includes Senate approval of the governor’s appointments. However, House lawmakers are interested in ensuring they have a say in appointments as well.
State lawmakers have until June 2 to get a deal done on transportation funding and SCDOT reforms.
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