South Carolina bills call for different road fund fixes

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 5/1/2013

South Carolina lawmakers are working to address a $29 billion transportation funding shortfall during the next two decades. Bills under review at the statehouse would raise revenue to cover expenses to fix roads and bridges throughout the state.

During the next 20 years the South Carolina Department of Transportation estimated it will cost the state $48.3 billion for road and bridge repairs. Revenue from fuel taxes is estimated to raise $19 billion, which is less than half of the amount needed.

Among the options to help fill the void is a bill from Sen. Harvey Peeler, R-Gaffney, to charge many out-of-state truckers fees that South Carolina-based truckers already pay.

S600 calls for collecting ad valorem, or personal property tax, based on depreciating value of equipment and miles traveled in the state.

Sen. Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, offered a bill to allow counties to impose a 1 percent sales tax to pay for road fixes. The tax would sunset in eight years unless voters authorize an extension.

S616 is estimated to raise $596 million annually.

Another effort would authorize counties to raise taxes for local road work. Sponsored by Sen. Greg Gregory, R-Lancaster, S149 would give voters the final say on adding up to a 2-cent-per-gallon tax on fuel purchases, including diesel, to pay for repairs and fixes.

If each county approves the tax increase, it would raise up to $60 million a year

A separate effort from Sen. Shane Martin, R-Spartanburg, would rely on vehicle sales tax revenue to support the state highway fund. Specifically, S210 would require revenue from vehicle sales tax be used for road repairs and upgrades. The change would raise about $100 million each year.

House lawmakers already signed off on a plan to shift about $82 million annually from the general fund and put the money into the state highway fund. H3412 would use revenue from the vehicle sales tax.

“This is the kind of tax reform we need to make our state more competitive, and this bill is just one part of the comprehensive tax overhaul the House has been fighting for,” House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, said in a recent news release.

A related effort would increase the state’s fuel tax rate by a dime. However, H3498 includes three years of income tax refunds for the state’s vehicle owners. Tax credits would equal $26 the first year and increase to $53 for 2014 and 2015.

Another option before lawmakers would index the state’s fuel tax – allowing for regular increases. Related fees would also be applied to owners of hybrid and electric vehicles.

Initially, a 5-cent-per-gallon increase would be imposed on gas and diesel purchases. H3645 would cap annual increases at 1.5 cents.

The state’s 16.75-cent fuel tax rate has not changed since 1987. It raises about $500 million annually.

Gov. Nikki Haley is opposed to increasing the tax at the pump. Instead, she has called on DOT officials to do a better job of managing money already available to the state.

The governor has offered a one-time funding option that would use $100 million of surplus revenue for transportation.

One more plan calls for borrowing $500 million for local roads. S411 would determine local funding for counties on a formula using population, area and rural roads.

The Senate Finance Committee is expected to review all revenue options and come up with one highway funding bill.

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

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