Fixing SC roads: Car dealers oppose one bill to fund repairs

Fixing SC roads: Car dealers oppose one bill to fund repairs

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Crumbling, deteriorating roads in South Carolina have lawmakers grasping for a plan to pay for repairs this year. And a bill that's gaining traction is undergoing some changes.

It would raise the gas tax and bring the Department of Transportation under the governor's control. But the bill adds other fees, and several groups are now speaking against those. The House bill would also raise the cap on sales tax when anyone buys a used car.

Dealers and the Carolinas Independent Automobile Dealers Association (CIADA), are concerned about the plan. They say they are unable to support the bill as it is now unless there's an amendment to change the sales tax plan. 

Right now, sales tax is calculated as 5 percent of the car price, up to a maximum of $300. But this bill, if passed, would increase the cap on that fee to $500.

It would mean those people, perhaps on a tight budget, who spend less on a car could still pay a higher tax than before, by nearly $200.

And the person buying a higher-end, more expensive car would pay about the same - $500 - in tax. Thus, a person buying a vehicle for $10,000 would pay the same amount of tax as a person spending $100,000 on a car. Dealer groups have been pushing for a change to that plan, but there's been none yet.

"Some highway work's got to get done, and it's got to get paid for, but we're looking strongly and are concerned about the person buying the lower priced car making it equitable for them," dealer Norman Stuckey says. 

This week, bill sponsor and House Majority Leader Rep. Gary Simrill (R- York) changed the bill to also reform the Department of Transportation, which would put the agency under the governor's control. The bill would provide that all the money from the tax and fee hikes go only to existing roads' repairs, along with other reforms.

That amendment may help move the bill through the Senate. The amendment is thought to have the governor's approval, but Governor Henry McMaster has not commented on the bill as a whole.

He's said only that a higher gas tax should be a last resort.

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