South Carolina bills would boost fuel tax up to 12 cents

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 1/5/2017

Work at the South Carolina Legislature begins next week with a lot of talk expected to focus on a long-term deal to pay for transportation work.

A nearly-one-year-old law relies on borrowing $2.2 billion over the next 10 years to get road and bridge work done throughout the state. The short-term deal 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.

Legislative leaders, however, said the state needs $600 to $800 million annually to address infrastructure needs.

The next step in the process to come up with a long-term funding source could include a fuel tax increase. In the lead-up to the opening of the 2017 regular session, a handful of bills filed for consideration call for fuel tax increases that range from 4 to 12 cents per gallon.

South Carolina has not raised its 16-cent-per-gallon fuel tax in 30 years.

Republican Sens. Paul Campbell of Goose Creek and Sen. Sean Bennett of Summerville are behind a bill to increase the tax rate by 12 cents over three years. In exchange, income taxes in the state would be reduced.

Specific to trucking, a road use fee collected at the same time as the registration fee would be added for truck drivers in exchange for exempting them from the ad valorem property tax.

Sen. Sandy Senn, R-Charleston, has filed a bill to allow counties to levy their own fees to pay for road improvements and maintenance. Local voters would need to sign off on the fuel user fee, or sales tax.

Berkeley and Dorchester counties already have a one percent sales tax that benefits local roads. During the fall elections, voters in Charleston County approved a half-cent sales tax for roads and transit.

Two House bills and one House resolution would also tap fuel purchases in the state for additional revenue. One bill would add 10 cents to the per-gallon price while another bill would add a 7-cent road user fee. A separate proposal would ask voters whether the excise rate should be increased by a dime over three years.

A more creative approach to transportation funding is offered on the House side. Rep. Todd Rutherford, R-Columbia, is the sponsor of a proposed amendment to the state’s Constitution to permit casinos and other gaming in the state to help pay for road and bridge needs.

Each piece of legislation awaits consideration in committee.

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

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