A special state Senate subcommittee trying to come up with a
plan to pay for the state's road and bridge needs is considering tying the
state gas tax to inflation. The state's tax of 16 cents a gallon hasn't
increased since 1987 and is the third-lowest in the nation.
“We really have got to find a way to pay for the upkeep
of our roads,” says Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Columbia, one of the subcommittee
members. “Nobody wants to pay for it but the money's not going to fall from the
sky, so it's incumbent upon us to look at all our revenue streams and come up
with a solution to do that.”
Republicans are against raising the state gas tax, but the
members of the subcommittee say this is not a tax increase; it's just indexing
it to inflation so the tax remains the same relative to other prices.
“Had we done this 25 years ago, we wouldn't be in the
condition we're in today,” Sen. Lourie says.
The subcommittee is also looking at borrowing $1.3 billion
dollars to go to roads and bridges. Part of that would come from the state
paying off school construction bonds in 2015, freeing up some of the state's
borrowing capacity. The plan would also move the money from the sales tax on
cars and trucks into the State Infrastructure Bank, which would give it more
Dottie Sharpe, co-owner of the Lexington Driving Academy,
says the condition of state roads is taking a toll on the six cars she uses to
train drivers. “They do hit these potholes causing damages to our cars
and, over a period of time, it adds up,” she says.
She's already had to replace several rims and tires this
year. When a pothole caused one tire to blow-out, the rubber hit the body of
the car right behind the tire, damaging the body.
She doesn't like the idea of raising the gas tax, though, or
even indexing it to inflation, since her business already goes through
$3,000-$4,000 a month in gas. State economists estimate that the gas tax would
go up by a total of four cents over ten years if it's indexed to inflation.
For a driver who averages 15,000 miles a year, if his car
averages 15 miles per gallon, he would pay about $4 more a year for gas.
“If we don't fix the problems now, it's going to cost
us even more in the long run. We all might just have to bite the bullet and
just accept it,” Sharpe says.
But getting the plan through the Statehouse will be
difficult. The House earlier this year killed a bill that would have indexed the
gas tax to inflation, but it also would have raised the gas tax outright. Gov.
Nikki Haley has said repeatedly she will veto any gas tax increase.