Infrastructure tops agenda in South Carolina legislative session

Published: Jan. 12, 2016 at 1:41 PM EST|Updated: Jan. 19, 2016 at 1:52 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - South Carolina state lawmakers return to Columbia on Tuesday with a long list of issues to tackle where infrastructure will be the key issue once again.

Lawmakers will welcome a surplus of $1.2 billion when they return to work, but at the forefront will likely be our state's crumbling roads and bridges.

The big question as they walk into the State House, does the state have enough money to pay for the road repairs without a gas tax increase?

There was a big push in the last legislative session which died after the Senate blocked a proposal to increase gas taxes to fix roads. Now, it's an even bigger issue this year after the October floods took a major toll on much of the state's infrastructure.

During last week's legislative workshop, some lawmakers are optimistic though and expect a road repair plan to pass the Senate by mid-February. Others agree it will happen but could take longer.

"I think there's going to be a lot more appetite in the Senate this year for reforms to the DOT and because of that, I think there's a very high prospect of getting a bill out relatively quickly and back over to the House," Sen. Tom Davis said.

"I'm not quite as optimistic as the senator from Beaufort, but I think we will set it up before the end of the year," Sen. Harvey Peeler said.

Still, a possible gas tax increase is likely to be at the center of debate. South Carolina drivers pay 16.75 cents in taxes per gallon, and it's been that way for nearly 30 years.

Can the House and Senate overcome differences between their proposals and will Gov. Nikki Haley sign a bill that doesn't meet the exact criteria she laid out last year?

Another big issue lawmakers will look to tackle during the session is funding education.

The South Carolina Supreme Court is holding lawmakers responsible for coming up with a plan to improve rural schools and early childhood education.

A court order remains on the table, putting pressure on lawmakers. Everyone agrees it's time to make progress.

"At what point do we stop studying problems and issues and actually do something," asked Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter. "For me, that's where I am with the Abbeville case."

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