The State House was bustling this past week as a bill to fix our broken roadways and bridges was introduced in the House. I’ve heard from so many of you about the importance of fixing our roads and bridges and the initial step was made in that process this past week.
The most sobering reality in our state today is that people are dying on our roadways and we can prevent much of it. Our state is once again on the wrong end of a national 50-state listing. We lead the nation in traffic fatalities, a sad fact attributed in part to the dilapidated state of our road systems. South Carolina has seen an increase in traffic fatalities of 27% in just the past 3 years alone.
The effort to develop a long-term sustainable solution to fix our dangerous infrastructure began 3 years ago in 2014. A bi-partisan committee developed a proposal utilizing the information provided from a DOT audit. The bill passed the House, but was ultimately blocked in the Senate.
After much input, a new infrastructure bill was put into motion this past week that would take an incremental approach to an increased user fee. Motorists who drive on our roads would see a 2 cents/gallon increase each year over the next 5 years. It is important to note that 100% of the additional funding would go solely toward our vast infrastructure needs. The last time South Carolina increased the per gallon user fee was in 1987 under the leadership of Governor Carroll Campbell. It remains one of the lowest in the country. Since the last increase the cost to pave roads has multiplied without a new source of funding.
The oldest taxpayer watchdog group in South Carolina, The South Carolina Taxpayers Association (SCTA), announced its support for the House measure. SCTA President Don Weaver said, “Well naturally, our membership doesn’t like any tax increase if that were perfect, but we also realize that the roads do need an increase in funding, and so unfortunately the gas tax really is the best way to get that.”
By utilizing a user fee increase (sustained long-term funding paid by anyone buying fuel to drive on SC roads), instead of General Fund money (one-time monies, most of which is collected only from SC citizens via sales/income tax), the new bill would shift the burden from being solely on the backs of SC taxpayers to anyone who uses our roadways – 1/3 of whom are out of state individuals. It’s called a “user fee,” not to try and hide the fact that it’s an increase of revenues, but to highlight the fact it’s a tax only paid by people who buy fuel to drive on our state’s roads. Those who drive tens of thousands of miles on our roads will pay more because they use them more, and those who drive much less, would pay much less.
The legislation includes:
- Raising the motor fuel tax 2-cents per year over five years.
- Increasing the sales tax cap on vehicle sales to $500 from $300.
- Enacting a $60 fee for hybrid vehicles and a $120 fee for electric vehicles. Both fees, for vehicles that use less gas but still use S.C. roads, would be paid every two years.
- Requiring motorists who move to South Carolina and register their vehicles in the Palmetto State to pay a $250 fee.
The SC Chamber of Commerce was quick to endorse the tax plan. Chamber CEO Ted Pitts said, “This funding proposal provides a long-term sustainable solution, and adequately captures out of state trucks and motorists who use our roads. It does all this in a responsible, phased in approach.”
The South Carolina Alliance to Fix Our Roads’, a non-partisan organization made up of business leaders from around the state, also endorsed the plan. “This legislation is a significant step in the right direction that we fully support,” said SCFOR President Bill Ross.
The prospect of raising SC’s gas tax – the second lowest in the nation – is difficult. Republicans dominate the legislature where a basic GOP political tenet has been “no new taxes.”
House Speaker Jay Lucas, a chief sponsor of the funding bill, said, “For far too long, South Carolina’s taxpayers have been the ones to solely foot the bill to repair our crumbling infrastructure. This legislation removes that burden and appropriately places it on every motorist who drives on South Carolina interstates and highways.”
A key player in the mix is soon-to-be Gov. Henry McMaster, who has the power of the veto. He has not said whether he supports increasing the state’s gas tax.
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