Senate convenes earlier than normal Thursday to debate new proposal on road funding

Published: Mar. 3, 2016 at 2:58 AM EST|Updated: May. 12, 2016 at 1:21 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - After five days of filibusters over the road funding bill in the South Carolina, a weary and frustrated South Carolina Senate has reached an agreement on an amendment with more power for the Governor and no gas tax increase.

Senators are coming into work earlier than normal Thursday and this time they should be debating the bill instead of filibustering it.

The Senate is scheduled to meet starting 10 a.m. Thursday, about 12 hours after Republicans and Democrats reached a deal to debate a GOP plan to send an additional $400 million to South Carolina roads without raising gas taxes.

The deal came after Democrats became angry when Republicans limited the time to debate any changes to the bill. Republicans later agreed to allow Democrats to put up some amendments and have a longer debate.

Lawmakers agreed to an amendment which would give Gov. Nikki Haley authority to pick all eight SCDOT commissioners, one from each Congressional District and one at-large. The commission would then pick the DOT Secretary. Both the commission and the secretary would ultimately have to be confirmed by the Senate, according to the amendment.

Commissioners will continue to serve the four-year staggered terms they currently follow.

The State Infrastructure Bank, which has been at the heart of the filibuster, will also be required to submit all road construction projects to the DOT commission for final approval.

The amended language also does away with the proposed gas tax increase, instead providing $400 million in recurring revenue from the state's General Fund, on top of the $481 million already provided by the state's current gas tax.

The SIB will receive $50 million in funds already provided by the general fund.

In all, Senate staff says over $1 billion in funds will go towards road maintenance and repair.

The vote was not easy for some lawmakers, though. The deal was reached during a long recess, with private discussions between both parties.

Senate Minority Leader Nikki Setzler, a Democrat from Lexington, took the podium and called for the motion to adopt the amended bill, but did so saying what he witnessed in the South Carolina Senate Wednesday was the "worst."

Other Senators, like Democratic Sen. John Scott, also expressed disgust at what he said he witnessed, and said he hoped the Senate would learn from the event. Setzler also went on to point out on record that the filibuster came from the Republican side of the Senate.

Sen. Harvey Peeler, a Gaffney Republican, was quick to praise Setzler for his compromise though, and said he intended to get the amendment passed when the Senate brings it up next week.

Senators Tom Davis, Lee Bright and Kevin Bryant led the filibuster against the roads bill, saying the focus should be on DOT reform and not road funding.

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