'Fix the damn roads': House leaders press Senate for action

Published: Apr. 18, 2017 at 2:38 PM EDT|Updated: Apr. 18, 2017 at 6:08 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - "Fix the damn roads."

It was a simple message on a banner flying behind an airplane in the skies above the RBC Heritage golf tournament in Hilton Head this past weekend. The SC Alliance to Fix Our Roads bought it to send a message to any legislators attending the event.

It was also the exact same message House Speaker Jay Lucas delivered during a news conference pressing the Senate to move forward on road and infrastructure funding.

In a 30-minute news conference, Lucas was joined by Majority Leader Gary Simrill, Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, and many House members in an effort to get the House's roads bill over the hump and into the hands of Gov. Henry McMaster.

The bill in the Senate would raise the gas tax by 12-cents over the course of the next 6 years.

However, the bill hit a major road block in the Senate several weeks back with senators passing on placing the bill on special order to move it to the floor faster.

Senate leaders, meanwhile, have criticized the bill's lack of reform to the state's Department of Transportation and how it decides which projects receive higher priorities over others. Many senators also want to see some type of tax relief to offset the increase.

Republican Tom Davis, who has filibustered gas tax raises in the past, says he will do it again because he believes the DOT is broken and that a few powerful senators have too much of an influence on spending.

"We currently have a politically corrupt system," Davis said. "A politically corrupt system spending their tax dollars when it comes to roads and bridges. In the 8 years that I've been in the Senate, We've seen annual spending from roads and bridges go from $1 billion a year to $2.3 billion a year this year."

However, if the bill passes the Senate, Gov. Henry McMaster has threatened to veto any increase. Instead, McMaster has floated the idea of borrowing up to $1 billion in bonds for roads projects.

"What concerns me is, here we are at the end of another legislative session and this is a conservative state yet we continually keep talking about borrowing money and raising money, raising taxes," McMaster said. "We ought not to be going in that direction. That's not the way to prosperity."

House leaders criticized that plan, however, saying they will not use a bond bill to fund road and infrastructure work.

The state Chamber of Commerce also released a statement, asking for the Senate to pass the bill.

"The time is now for Senators to take action – lives and jobs are at stake," Chamber President and CEO Ted Pitts said in a statement. "With less than 12 days remaining in the legislative session, the business community joins people from every part of South Carolina in calling on Senators to do their job and provide a long-term fix for our state's roads. The cost of doing nothing is too high."

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