South Carolina officials pitching cheap gas as tourist attraction

COLUMBIA — South Caro­lina’s tourism department hopes to woo visitors with the promise of cheaper gasoline.

“We actually mention that in some of our public relations stuff now – that we have some of the least expensive gas,” Duane Par­rish, the director of the state Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, said during a three-day state tourism conference that ended Wednesday.

“Eighty percent of the people here have to buy gas. Why not?” Parrish said of efforts to advertise low gas prices.

The agency is also trying to encourage residents to travel within South Carolina.

The top states whose residents travel to South Carolina destinations include North Carolina at 19 percent, Georgia at 13 percent, Virginia at 5 percent, and Florida at 4 percent, according to the department.

The secret to South Caro­lina’s cheap gas lies in its gas tax of about 16 cents per gallon. The tax is among the lowest in the nation and hasn’t been raised since 1987. Funding to fix and maintain roads comes largely from revenue generated by the gas tax.

On the flip side, South Carolina drivers pay an average of $265 each year fixing their vehicles because of poor road conditions, according to one estimate.

On Friday, regular fuel averaged $3.25 per gallon in South Carolina, $3.39 in Georgia, $3.52 in Florida, and $3.43 in North Carolina, according to AAA. Only eight states, concentrated in the West, had lower gas prices than South Carolina.

The South Carolina Al­liance to Fix Our Roads is advocating for new revenue to better maintain highways. The most obvious idea, to raise the gas tax, has always met swift political resistance.

Kristen Lominack, the associate director of the nonprofit alliance, said that’s not necessarily what the group is recommending. She said it’s just one option among a variety that include changes to the vehicle sales tax and rental car fees.

South Carolina has 907 structurally deficient bridges and 774 functionally obsolete bridges, according to the alliance. The nonprofit says an additional $31 million is needed annually simply for bridge replacement, let alone billions for roads in the future.

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