Bill to Raise Money for SC Roads Hitting Calendar & Opposition Roadblocks
By Robert Kittle, WJBF South Carolina Capitol reporter - email
Columbia, SC -
A bill aimed at generating more money for South Carolina’s crumbling roads and bridges is running into procedural problems and running out of time at the Statehouse.
The SCDOT says it needs about $1.5 billion additional dollars a year just to bring state roads and bridges up to a condition considered “good”, an amount that would use up almost the entire state budget that doesn’t go to health care and schools. So Sen. Ray Cleary, R-Murrells Inlet, has been trying to come up with ways to generate more revenue, including raising driver’s license fees and vehicle registration fees.
A bill that’s already passed the House would send $41 million a year from the sales tax on vehicles to the DOT instead of going to the General Fund like it does now. When the bill got to a Senate committee, senators made some changes, including making permanent the governor’s power to appoint the state DOT secretary. But since appointing the DOT secretary doesn’t deal with the bill’s original subject of raising money for roads, the fear is that the bill would be ruled non-germane and couldn’t be debated.
So now Sen. Cleary plans to pull that part out of the bill so it can be discussed. He also plans to introduce the new ways of raising revenue for roads, including possibly: indexing the gas tax to inflation, since the tax hasn’t gone up since 1987; raising the driver’s license fee from $25 to $40 for ten years; and raising the vehicle registration fee.
He says he’s already gotten heat about the idea of raising fees, but says, "What's more important, to fix the roads or get reelected?"
Bill Ross, executive director of the SC Alliance to Fix Our Roads, says since the bill as currently written would bring in only $41 million in new money for roads, "We've got a long way to go, and as everybody knows, the roads are getting in worse shape every day. But every little bit helps.”
One other major obstacle facing the bill is that Gov. Nikki Haley says she will veto any tax or fee increase.
“What I want the legislature to do is instead of being so quick to raise fees and taxes, look at revenue streams we already have and move that over to infrastructure. They are there,” she said Monday.
Earlier this year, she proposed using for roads all “new” money the state finds every year. State budget advisors set an amount early in the year that they think the state will collect in taxes. The budget is written based on that amount. Then, later in the year, they revise that estimate based on new information. In most years, that means lawmakers have about $100 million more in “new” money to spend. That’s the additional money the governor wants to put toward roads.
But Cleary says that’s only $1 billion over 10 years when the DOT says it needs $1.5 billion more each year. "Show me the revenue stream,” he says. “Show me where she can find $1.5 billion a year, or even $1 billion a year."
In order to have a chance to pass this year, the bill also needs to get set for “special order” in the Senate, which gives it priority. If that doesn’t happen, it’s likely dead for the year, meaning no new money for roads.
Ross says, "We're going backwards instead of forwards. And with the bad weather we had this year, with the potholes, it's just getting worse."