South Carolina bills seek road funding solutions

| 2/26/2008

Struggling to come up with solutions to help pay for needed road and bridge work throughout the state, lawmakers in South Carolina are pursuing different paths to solve the state’s funding crisis.

One option being touted would help patch up the state’s highways. Sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston, the bill would move about $90 million collected in sales taxes on vehicles to the state’s Department of Transportation and the South Carolina Transportation Infrastructure Bank.

That money would help pay the debt on a future $1 billion bond issue.

A similar House bill would transfer a smaller amount for roads. House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, introduced the bill that would eventually route $30 million from the state’s general fund to the highway fund each year.

A separate effort would create a transportation maintenance fund. Sponsored by Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley, the bill would send 2 percent of revenue from the state’s general fund to the maintenance fund.

Another state lawmaker is looking to take the toll route to ease the state’s funding crisis.

Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, has introduced a bill that would require the South Carolina DOT to collect tolls at one location along Interstate 95. The bill – S972 – would authorize toll collection where the roadway crosses Lake Marion in either Orangeburg County or Clarendon County.

Hutto said he would like to put tolls on I-95 to provide funds needed to maintain and improve the roadway throughout the state.

Advocates for alternative sources of funding cite fewer federal dollars that are available to states. Others say the state’s 16-cent-per-gallon fuel tax is among the lowest in the nation.

Opponents say the state would be better served to spend its money smarter. Simply charging higher tax rates or putting tolls on roadways won’t solve the larger problem of wasteful spending, they say.

Hutto’s bill – S972 – is in the Senate Transportation Committee. McConnell’s bill – S891 – and Grooms’ bill – S892 – are in the Senate Finance Committee. Harrell’s bill – H4549 – is in the House Ways and Means Committee.

To view other legislative activities of interest for South Carolina in 2008, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor