Sen. Tom Davis Fillibuster – No tax hike needed for roads

THE STATE .COM: BY CASSIE COPE, ccope@thestate.com

After four months of debating how to raise money to repair South Carolina’s crumbling roads, state senators now are debating whether higher taxes are needed at all.

Thursday, for the second day, Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, held the floor of the state Senate, filibustering a proposal to spend $85 million from a state savings account.

Davis argued that money and most of the roughly $400 million in new state revenues, expected to be added to the state’s general fund budget next week, should be spent on roads, eliminating the need for a gas-tax hike.

That proposed 12-cent-a-gallon increase is unnecessary, Davis argued, threatening to continue his filibuster until the session ends June 4.

However, other legislators argued Davis’ plan — to spend most of the added revenues that the state collects from the improving economy on roads — would continue to starve other state agencies. Those agency budgets were cut during the Great Recession and have never been restored, leading to a host of other problems — from understaffing at the state’s child-care agency to underfunding of schools to higher college tuitions.

With only six days left in the regular session, those lawmakers say a gas-tax increase is essential to provide stable, long-term revenues to the state Department of Transportation and address other needs.
Relying on state savings and surpluses alone “won’t take care of roads. Period,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence. Road repairs need to be paid for from state revenues that recur each year, said Leatherman, who supports a Senate plan to increase the gas tax by 12 cents among other fee increases.

Putting one-time money toward road needs is not a long-term solution, agreed state Sen. Shane Massey, R-Edgefield. “DOT and the private sector need to know that there is a dedicated, steady source of revenue that’s going to be coming in every year.”

Some of the state’s growing revenues need to go to other state agencies, other lawmakers said.

“Roads are not the only thing that state government deals with,” said Senate Minority Leader Nikki Setzler, D-Lexington, adding K-12 education and local governments have lost hundreds of millions of dollars in funding since 2008.

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