UPDATE: House & Senate Road Proposals

DEBATE LIMITED TO ONE GOAL: HOW TO
SEND MORE MONEY TO A BROKEN SYSTEM

Tuesday’s Senate Finance Committee featured a lot of grandstanding but little action. Senators agreed to strike the original text of Sen. Cleary’s roads bill (S.523), but they have yet to vote on replacing its language with host of tax and fee hikes recommended by the Senate Finance Transportation Subcommittee. Early discussions of the subcommittee proposals drew concerns from a few senators who wanted any roads package to contain either DOT reform or tax relief. A larger and more vocal group, however, seemed determined to pass a bill that focused on tax and fee hikes – regardless of the expressed will of the governor or public.

Meanwhile in the House, another plan to raise taxes to “fix our roads” was under consideration. The Ways and Means (W&M) Revenue Policy subcommittee met yesterday to consider H. 3579, the plan developed by the House Ad Hoc Infrastructure Committee at the request of Speaker Lucas.

This plan restructures the DOT, increases the size and power of the State Transportation Infrastructure Bank (STIB), transfers a number of roads to the counties and increases the counties’ transportation funds, and of course, raises both the fuel tax and the car sales tax.

Unsurprisingly, special interest groups dominated the public hearing at yesterday’s subcommittee meeting. The S.C. Alliance to Fix Our Roads, the S.C. Trucking Association, and the S.C. Petroleum Marketers Association each spoke in favor of the overall plan, including raising taxes on South Carolinians.

Josh Rhodes of the S.C. Association of Counties raise the point that many counties are worried about the road transfer proposal since, according to Rhodes, they have difficulty managing their road systems as it is.

Chairman Brian White claimed to be willing to “work with the locals,” but basically warned that the conversation had to take place on the state’s terms. Accordingly, an amendment to the bill created an opt-out provision for the counties. That option would be afforded to the county transportation boards (which are appointed by the county legislative delegations) rather than to the county councils who will actually maintain the roads.

The amended bill passed the subcommittee unanimously and will be heard by the full Ways and Means committee on the 26th.

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