Road funding bill dead in South Carolina for this year

Associated Press: By BY JEFFREY COLLINS, June 3, 2015

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Getting more money to South Carolina roads was a top priority of the governor, lawmakers and businesses for this year. But with one day left in the 2015 session, the road funding bill appears dead on the Senate floor.

There likely will be extra money sent to roads this year. The House and Senate seem to overwhelmingly support sending $150 million in extra revenue directly to the state’s 46 counties for local repair projects, with the money distributed in part by county size, population and road network.

But the Department of Transportation said it would need at least $400 million in extra revenue a year just to keep the crumbling bridges and pothole-filled roads in their current condition. To improve roads, increase lanes and build new highways would take $1 billion extra or more annually, the agency said.

Some of the state’s most fiscally conservative lawmakers said there is no need to raise the gas tax or other taxes to do that. Instead, the state could find enough money by reforming DOT and making the agency spend its money better and by setting aside more money from an improved economy and extra revenue generated by a population growth of nearly 5 percent in the past four years.

Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, stopped business in the Senate for the final two weeks of the session making this argument in a filibuster. Other lawmakers point out about 35 percent of the state’s gas tax is paid by out-off-state drivers, while the additional revenue almost comes entirely from in-state sources

The fiscal conservatives are joined by Gov. Nikki Haley, who wants to pair any possible increase in taxes to pay for roads to be offset by income tax cuts.

Whatever plan emerges is going to have to wait at least until next January. And in 2016, all 170 members of the Legislature are up for re-election, which may bring more pressure from angry constituents tired of flat tires and front-end alignments or more caution from lawmakers leery of ending up with a primary challenger.

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