South Carolina lawmakers agree on road funding solution

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 6/3/2016

As the clock wound down on another legislative session at the South Carolina statehouse, lawmakers reached agreement on a deal to boost road funding.

House lawmakers voted 109-2 on Wednesday, June 1, to advance a bill that avoids new taxes or fees to pay for highway projects. Specifically, the bill cleared for passage to the governor’s desk relies on borrowing $2.2 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 House vote came hours before the Legislature’s Thursday adjournment and one day after the Senate voted 31-10 to tweak the bill.

The final version of the Republican-led effort, S1258, relies on $200 million annually from the state’s sales tax on vehicles, as well as other DMV 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.

State DOT officials say the agency needs about $1.5 billion annually to get roads to good condition.

SCDOT Secretary Christy Hall has said the bonding plan would free up additional revenue to get $4 billion worth of work done over the next decade. Specifically, $2 billion would be allotted for interstate expansions, another $1 billion would be used to repair 400 bridges, and $1 billion would be applied for road resurfacing.

Critics say the bill does little to address the state’s long-term road needs. Instead, some lawmakers on both sides of the aisle said a fuel tax increase is necessary to meet the state’s long-term road funding needs.

South Carolina has not raised its 16-cent-per-gallon fuel tax in more than a quarter-century.

Also included in the road plan is reform in state DOT governance. Changes made in the Senate and signed off on by House lawmakers would give the governor appointment power for all eight members of the commission that oversees the agency.

Legislators would have to approve the commissioners.

Currently, seven commissioners are appointed by lawmakers with the eighth commissioner appointed at-large by the governor. The bill would permit the governor to recommend the at-large commissioner.

Commissioners would appoint the secretary. The governor now makes the appointment.

The secretary would report to the commission, which reports to the governor.

Lawmakers said reform at the DOT is necessary before talks for any long-term funding plans can move forward. Negotiations on long-term funding plans are expected to begin during the 2017 regular session.

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

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