Battle lines drawn, 'shame games' kick-off the Senate's gas tax debate

Published: Apr. 19, 2017 at 1:50 AM EDT|Updated: Apr. 19, 2017 at 6:21 AM EDT
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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - The debate heats up on how to fix South Carolina's deteriorating roads, as lawmakers strategically shamed each other on Tuesday morning.

There was finger pointing and poking fun, as senators began their battle over raising the gas tax.

They are working against the clock if the bill to raise gas tax and other road user fees to pay to fix roads is to pass before the session ends in May. There are only 12 more days left in this legislative session.

One group of House members spoke together publicly on Tuesday morning: House Speaker Jay Lucas (R- Darlington), Majority Leader Gary Simrill (R- York), and Minority Leader Todd Rutherford (D- Richland) pressured senators to do as they've done and pass bill H. 3516.

It would create an eventual 12-cent-per-gallon hike after six years. They poked fun at a peculiar banner flown over the RBC Heritage golf tournament in Hilton Head over the weekend.

The SC Alliance to Fix Our Roads paid for the banner that read, "Fix the damn roads!"

"Well, I would quote the plane that flew over the Heritage 'Pass the damn bill,'" Lucas said. "But I would also, but I would also tell them it's about math. And with 42,000 miles of center lane road in South Carolina, there's no way feasibly possible that we can maintain the system we have."

More than a dozen House members seemed to nod in agreement with the leaders' statements against Governor Henry McMaster's stance against gas tax increases, or for borrowing money through a bond bill to fund roads instead.

McMaster reinforced his opinion on a higher tax on Tuesday morning, saying, "You cannot tax yourself into prosperity, so I'm opposed to raising this gas tax."

Some Republican senators also stand firm against H. 3516 as it's currently written. Senator Tom Davis (R- Beaufort) pledges to filibuster the bill if the Department of Transportation is not is not reformed under it.

"We currently have a politically corrupt system. A politically corrupt system spending their tax dollars when it comes to roads and bridges," Davis said.

He's filibustered gas tax hikes before. He believes the system is corrupt, with a handful of powerful lawmakers guiding projects.

"Until you go ahead and address that expenditure process until you have state agencies that actually go ahead and spend those dollars when they're needed, you're not going to get potholes repaired," Davis said. "You're not going to get interstates widened. You're not going to have the roads put in better condition."

It could be a long few days, as Senate Democrats fight back. On Tuesday, they announced that if the bill stalls, South Carolinians need not blame them.

"You know what? 'No' is not a solution. All we've heard from Senate Republicans is 'no, no, no.' Well, that means yes we have crappy roads which are what we have in South Carolina," Sen. Vincent Sheheen (D- Kershaw) said.

Senators return for more debate on Wednesday at 11 a.m.

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