COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Another hurdle is cleared after senators passed H. 3516, the bill to fund road repairs by raising South Carolina's gas tax.
In a vote 30 to 9 on Thursday morning, the bill passed its third reading. It's a good sign for the bill's chances since senators have passed something after three years of discussing similar plans.
However, there's still a road ahead for the bill to become law. It heads back to the House now, to be discussed and possibly changed as soon as Tuesday. Not all Representatives agree with the latest version of the bill.
"You know, the bill has to go back to the House. I don't believe the House will necessarily concur with that particular rebate program. You know, when you go to conference, a lot of things changes," President of the SC Alliance to Fix Our Roads Bill Ross said.
The Senate made several changes to the roads bill. Besides raising the gas tax by 12 cents per gallon more than six years, the bill features tax credits, rebate, and slight Department of Transportation (SCDOT) reforms.
After the Senate changes, the bill now:
- Creates a tax rebate for drivers with vehicles registered in state, who file gas receipts on their income tax form
- Expands a tax credit for two-wage earning families
- Expands a tax credit for those attending college and not receiving the Life or Palmetto Fellows scholarship
- Reduces the manufacturing property tax rate from 10.5 percent to 8.5 percent over two years, as well as reduces the business personal property tax rate from 10.5 percent to 9.5 percent
- Provides a nonrefundable earned income tax credit for qualifying taxpayers
Senators who voted against the bill, like Sen. Greg Hembree (R- Horry), say the fiscal impact of this plan to the state is uncertain since it's unknown as to how many taxpayers will qualify and claim the tax credits.
"But it has the potential to really blow a hole in the general fund," Hembree said.
The plan's sponsor, Sen. Larry Grooms (R- Berkeley) says his plan still would raise more money for SCDOT than the House's former plan.
"Even with the tax relief component, provides more revenue to our roads than the House-backed plan," Grooms said.
"What my concern is, is that we would take any funding that is meant for DOT and pull that out as a set-aside and it not go to DOT," Rep. Gary Simrill (R- York) said.
Simrill is the House majority leader and sponsor of the original version of the gas tax bill. He was not satisfied with the rebate senators had added to the bill, but is glad to have something passed.
"At least we have a platform now in which to negotiate," Simrill said. "It's up to the House to do the right thing."
It's unknown now as to what the House will do; they could change the bill, but will the Senate agree to their changes? After the House gets the bill, there will be a conference.
Three House members and three senators will meet to try to strike a compromise on the bill between them. Then, each chamber will vote. There will have to be agreement, and still enough votes in each chamber to override the veto Governor Henry McMaster has promised.
SCDOT Secretary Christy Hall spoke on Wednesday, glad there's been progress. She says any funding that passes will go first to her rural roads safety plan.
"We're prepared to immediately begin that rural roads safety program. As we've indicated, that's going to be our top priority. We will gradually but steadily increase our paving program to be double what it is today. That's our intent," Hall said.
That would include installing rumble strips, raised pavement markings, reflective signs, guardrail, wider shoulders, and more adjustments to deadly rural roads in South Carolina.
Here's the roll call for the vote: