The S.C. House gave key approval to a bill that would raise about $600 million annually to fix deteriorating roads across the state. The bill will soon reach the Senate where debate is expected to again focus on the 10-cent per gallon gas tax increase and the need for more reform to the S.C. Department of Transportation.
The measure passed by a veto-proof 97-18 margin on Wednesday. House Majority Leader and bill sponsor Gary Simrill, R-Rock Hill, said increasing the gas tax, raising the vehicle sales tax cap to $500 and increasing the biennial vehicle registration fee by $16, and creating other fees was a difficult but necessary decision.
“The only way to get them repaired is to have additional funding,” Simrill said. “The collateral damage that comes from roads being bad is unfortunate, it must be stopped, and this is the first step in doing that.”
There isn't enough House opposition to the bill to overturn any potential veto from Gov. Henry McMaster, who said last month that a gas tax increase should only be implemented as a last resort. Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Hartsville, countered McMaster with similar language in a statement Wednesday.
“The only remaining option left to fix our crumbling infrastructure is to adopt the provisions set forth in this bill,” Lucas said.
One main point of contention, which will also crop up in the forthcoming Senate debate, is the need for more reform to the S.C. Department of Transportation’s governance structure. Several Republicans, including Rep. Johnathon Hill, R-Townville, voted against the bill, since not enough is done to change the structure of the DOT Commission.
“This isn’t going to fix the roads in rural South Carolina,” said Rep. Johnathon Hill, R-Townville. “My main opposition is that we have an accountability issue with DOT, not a revenue issue at this time, and I believe this was an attempt to address the wrong problem.”
Secretary Christy Hall told reporters that if the Senate maintains the bill’s funding level then roadway conditions would start to be reversed—at a higher cost.
“Each year that we have waited has cost us an additional $340 million of delay,” Hall said. “We’ve allowed it to decay to the point where almost the full system needs reconstruction.”