Facing deadline, Senate takes no action to fix roads

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - The South Carolina General Assembly has one more day to do the people's work, but a plan to fix the state's crumbling roads has been put on ice.

It's now almost certain that a roads bill won't be passed this year.

"There's these huge potholes, you know, and if you brake, you might be rear-ended, but if you swerve, you might get in a worse accident,” Sarah Fields said.

The 15-year-old was in the State House on Wednesday hoping to watch senators put their differences aside and advance a plan fix the state's roads.

To her dismay, that never happened.

"I am tremendously disappointed. Sen. Nikki Setzler said. "This is the biggest issue of the year, roads are." 

"Frustrated is more the word," Rep. Gary Simrill added.

On Wednesday, Senator Tom Davis (R-Beaufort) continued a multi-week filibuster against the current roads bill that he says was nothing more than a bill to raise the gas tax without reforming the South Carolina Department of Transportation or offering any tax relief. Davis clashed with Democrats and even his Republican President Pro Tempore.

Davis acknowledged that his passionate stand might put him in hot water with President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman. Over the past few days, he's argued a newly identified surplus should be used to fund roads, not a gas tax increase.

"What he's talking about is not a raindrop on Lake Murray. It is not a drop in the bucket of what needs to be done in this state. The issue needs to be debated straight-up. Let's fix the roads. Then, if we need to deal with restructuring DOT, we'll deal with it in a different bill," Setzler said.

"The DOT actually had a major reform in 2007, which we feel is working well," Bill Ross, the leader of the South Carolina Alliance to Fix Our Roads added.

Rep. Simrill told WIS that his House bill, which passed with bipartisan support in April, had it all, a gas tax increase, SCDOT reform, and tax relief. All three are things Governor Nikki Haley asked for months ago in her State of the State address.

"There was no reason that these two legislative bodies couldn't have come to an agreement," Simrill said.

Simrill said, due to the Senate's inaction and Davis' filibuster, $500 million in road funding is being left on the table.

"You can put up with a little bit of time delay in a road or even changing a tire on the side of a road. Nobody likes it, but you can put up with it. Lives being lost because of these dilatory motions that we've seen and the lack of people wanting to work together. That's very unfortunate," Simrill said.
Simrill does expect a smaller amount of $150 million will go to roads this year, even though a bill wasn't passed. Technically,
there's one more day left of this year's session, but senators say that's not enough time to take all the votes necessary to pass a bill.

Simrill told WIS there's also still a "glimmer of hope" that senators will take up the roads bill in a special session

later this month. If that doesn't happen, the bill won't be taken up again until lawmakers come back next January for the 2016 session.

Copyright 2015 WIS. All rights reserved.