Politics, broken promises, fight over taxes are serious roadbloc - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina

Politics, broken promises, fight over taxes are serious roadblocks to fixing SC's roads


It looks like politics, broken promises, and a fight over your tax dollars have stopped a proposal to fix South Carolina's dangerous and crumbling roads dead in its tracks.

It was one of the first plans proposed by lawmakers for this session, but how two votes may have stalled road funding for another year.

It seems like a pretty simple problem. So why are there so many problems with roads? It all comes down to money.

Today, cars are more fuel-efficient than ever. So people spend less on gas from point A to B. So, the amount the state gets from its road-fixing gas tax goes down, leaving roads looking worse.

“If you rely on a volume-based measure to pave roads, then we are in for a future trainwreck," Rep. Gary Simrill said.

The House tried what they hoped was an equally simple solution: raise the amount of money coming in, but basing the tax on the wholesale cost of gas.

Lawmakers passed a gas tax almost 30 years ago, how hard can it be? Turns out, really hard.

You've got four players in the road funding game: the House, the Senate, pro-roads groups like the South Carolina Alliance to Fix Our Roads, and anti-tax groups like Americans for Prosperity

And the ref? Gov. Nikki Haley, who won't sign a roads bill without an income tax cut. The cut, she says, offsets a price jump at the pump.

The House made the first play, introducing a bill without an income tax cut. The House roads bill was actually submitted three weeks into session, but stalled in the Ways and Means Committee until it was amended in April.

“The income tax reduction, that was Mr. Brian White's revision," Simrill said.

The Alliance to Fix Our Roads used those two months to drum up support for the plan. Americans for Prosperity used the same strategy, campaigning against the gas tax.

“We've been educating folks around the state, letting them know how to contact their legislators. We've been doing mail," Dave Schwartz with Americans For Prosperity said. 

Letters flooded Senate offices, but lawmakers say AFP missed the mark on what gas tax money is for.

“They're facts weren't straight," Sen. Ronnie Cromer said. "We're talking about a group that's putting out information on bike trails and light rail mass transit.”

“No, no! There's no such thing we don't know what you're talking about! Look, the Department of Transportation wrote up their 20-year plan," Schwartz rebutted. "In that 20 year plan they want to spend $5.3 billion on light rail, bicycle trails, bus lines.”

That same report does point out none of those plans are set in stone.

“If you're gonna fight that battle where you don't even want it to come out and be considered and debated, you can sway people to say ‘Hey, this is a large tax increase. Can you ask so-and-so not to vote for it?'" Cromer said.

The struggle over income tax cuts, and gas tax hikes, have run the clock down to the legislative session's final days.

“There's been this grinding halt to a lot of fast moving legislation," Schwartz said.

Roads took a back seat to social issues like abortion and body cameras. Just this week, the Senate Finance Committee endorsed a different roads plan that hasn't gotten a vote yet, sending the road funding debate back to square one.

“Time is real key here," Bill Ross with the South Carolina Alliance to Fix Our Roads.

So if the roads bill is on the back burner, what does that mean?

It means 41,000 miles of state-owned roads, most of them small and rural, go another year with a shrinking money pot for repairs. And it means less money for you. According to national travel research group TRIP, the state of South Carolina roads costs you on average an extra $1,250 a year in car repairs and lost travel time.

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