South Carolina lawmakers will adjourn for the year Thursday, likely without a plan for funding repairs to the state’s roads and bridges. A bill that would raise the gas tax, cut the state income tax, and restructure the Department of Transportation is stuck in the state Senate.
“People want to have their roads fixed, but they’re very divided about how they want to go about doing that, and those divisions are reflected here; we’re divided too,” says Sen. Shane Massey, R-Edgefield.
Lawmakers are divided into three groups: one that favors raising the gas tax as a permanent and stable source of money for roads and bridges; one that wants to raise the gas tax while cutting the state income tax to lessen the blow of the gas tax increase; and one that doesn’t want any kind of tax increase, arguing that there’s already enough money in the state budget to maintain roads.
Columbia driver Gabe Smith wishes lawmakers would pass a plan. “I’ve learned to schedule a wheel alignment almost every year. The occasional pothole that I hit is jaw-jarring enough I’ve had my car shut off on me once,” he says.
But he’s not convinced a higher gas tax is the answer. “I’m responsible for as much in road maintenance fees as the average South Carolina driver, but I can’t tell where it’s going.”
Sen. Massey says he thinks the only plan that will ever pass would have to include a gas tax increase, some kind of tax cut to offset it, and changing the DOT. Lawmakers are talking about using $150 million from the state’s budget surplus for roads and bridges.
“We’ve got to have a dedicated source of revenue for roads and bridges that everybody knows, roughly, how much money is coming in every year,” Sen. Massey says. “Taking it from surplus is just, it’s sporadic. I mean, you hope you’re going to have a surplus every year, but you don’t know that and you can’t rely on it to deal with a problem like this.”
Lawmakers also did not pass an ethics reform plan, which they had said at the beginning of the year was one of their top priorities.
One of their biggest accomplishments was passing a tougher bill against criminal domestic violence, which Gov. Nikki Haley’s office says she’ll sign into law Thursday morning. Long-time victim advocate Laura Hudson says it’s one of the biggest advancements in years at fighting domestic violence.
“By changing the penalties to be based on harm instead of the numbers (of offenses), I think that we’ll see a vast improvement for prosecutors having more things to be able to charge,” she says. The bill also includes an education component to try to stop domestic violence before it happens, and treatment changes to try to prevent repeat offenses.
Lawmakers also say they’re close to an agreement on a bill to require all police to wear body cameras. House members and senators met Wednesday to work on a compromise plan, with the major sticking point right now being when the requirement would start.
While lawmakers adjourn Thursday, they’ll come back June 16-18 to finish work on the budget and take up any vetoes by the governor.