South Carolina Senate OKs $400 million for roads

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 3/16/2016

A road funding solution for South Carolina roads could be weeks away from approval at the statehouse.

The Senate voted 30-15 mostly along party lines to advance a bill to raise $400 million per year to repair the state’s roads and bridges without new taxes or fees. Instead, the funding plan relies on general fund revenue.

The amount allotted in the bill nearly doubles the $481 million the state now receives each year through the 16.75-cent-per-gallon fuel tax.

Senate Republicans describe the effort as a responsible roads bill that provides a consistent, stable funding source to ensure roads issues are addressed.

“The Senate has made it clear that addressing our state’s roads needs is a priority,” Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler, R-Gaffney, said in prepared remarks.

Senate Democrats have referred to the bill as the “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 rate is unchanged since 1987.

Another criticism of the bill is that it relies on funds now used to address other state needs.

Also included in the amended funding plan are reforms at the South Carolina Department of Transportation. Specifically, the agency would be required to approve project decisions by the State Transportation Infrastructure Bank

The governor would also be given the power to appoint highway commissioners. Authority to confirm commissioners now rests with the Legislature.

The funding plan, H3579, now moves to the House for consideration of changes made to the bill since the chamber approved it one year ago.

House lawmakers previously approved a road funding plan that included a dime increase in the state’s fuel tax rate. A separate provision in the bill would implement a small cut in the state income tax rate.

Like the Senate plan, Representatives approved giving the governor control of the SCDOT.

The Senate GOP called the House’s plan an “unstable funding source” due to the fluctuating market price of fuel.

Republican Gov. Nikki Haley praised the Senate plan via social media. She urged legislators to “Bring it home!”

The House can either sign off on the Senate’s plan or send the issue to a conference committee of select lawmakers from both chambers to negotiate a compromise.

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

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