COLUMBIA — A proposal that eventually would pump an additional $600 million annually into fixing South Carolina’s roads advanced Tuesday on a unanimous vote.
The latest road-funding plan heading to the full House Ways and Means Committee would raise the state’s 16-cents-per-gallon gas tax to 26 cents per gallon over five years.
It would increase the vehicle sales tax cap to $500 and raise the biennial vehicle registration fee by $16.
It also creates several fees: a one-time vehicle registration fee for people moving to South Carolina, biennial fees on hybrid and electric vehicles, and a tax on out-of-state truckers.
The goal is to ensure all who use South Carolina’s roads help pay for them, said House Majority Leader Gary Simrill, R-Rock Hill.
“We’re looking at as many ways as we possibly can to capture outside revenue,” he said. “Because of our lack of action and leadership, we’re further behind than most.”
Last week, Department of Transportation Director Christy Hall told a Senate panel that roads have deteriorated so badly, it will take a decade just to climb out of the maintenance hole created over the past five years.
Roughly $28 billion is still needed over the next 25 years to bring the state’s existing highway system – the nation’s fourth-largest – up to good condition, she said.
On Monday, Gov. Henry McMaster sought $5 billion from the federal government to help pay for that.
That’s roughly the amount that laws passed in 2013 and last year collectively allow in infrastructure spending over the next decade, largely through borrowing.
“It is too much at this time to ask our people to bear this burden alone, heightening fears of increased gas taxes, delay, missed opportunities and decline,” McMaster wrote in his letter to President Donald Trump.
The released letter represented McMaster’s first public comments on the road-funding question.
But it didn’t answer whether he would veto legislation that includes a gas tax increase – as his predecessor, former Gov. Nikki Haley, vowed throughout her first term.
Haley later said she could agree to raise the gas tax – unchanged since 1987 – only if legislators also slashed income taxes and gave the governor full oversight of the DOT.
Her veto threat and stipulations made it easy for opponents of increasing the gas tax to block legislation.
Simrill, who met with McMaster on Monday, said the new Republican governor “wants to be the person that brings the ball across the finish line” by working with legislators to find consensus, not issue conditions.
The federal money is welcome but doesn’t provide the long-term funding solution the state needs, said Simrill, who’s led the House’s road-funding effort for several years.
“People who are waiting on the federal government usually just get old and tired,” he said. “South Carolina cannot wait on the federal government to take care of our problem.”
Supporters at Tuesday’s hearing included representatives of the state’s Trucking Association, Forestry Association and Association of Convenience Stores, as well as the Alliance to Fix Our Roads, a coalition of businesses.
Lynn Murray, representing Southeast Toyota, asked the panel to remove the $60 biennial fee for hybrid vehicles.
“Hybrids don’t evade fuel taxes,” she said. “We’re paying at the pump.”
Marty Coates, representing used car dealers, opposed a simple sales tax cap increase.
Since 1984, anyone who pays at least $6,000 for a vehicle, boat or plane in South Carolina pays $300 in sales taxes.
Raising the cap to $500 could be detrimental to people buying in the $6,000-$10,000 range, said Coates, a former GOP House member, who suggested a sliding scale.