COLUMBIA, S.C. —Leaders in the South Carolina House, including House Speaker Jay Lucas, have introduced a long-term plan they say would fix the state’s roads and bridges. The bill calls for raising the state’s gas tax by a total of 10 cents a gallon, but not all at once; it would go up two cents a gallon over five years.
South Carolina’s current gasoline tax is 16.75 cents a gallon, which is second-lowest in the nation. It hasn’t been raised since 1987.
Rep. Gary Simrill, R-Rock Hill, is the main sponsor of the bill. Rep. Brian White, R-Anderson, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee that writes the state budget, is a co-sponsor. He says the bill will not only fix roads but save lives. “One’s too many, but when you’re nearing a thousand deaths on an annual basis on your highway system, not only do we have potholes and crumbling bridges we have unsafe conditions,” he says.
The plan would phase in the gas tax increase over five years to give the SCDOT and construction companies time to ramp up. “If we put just a lot of money out there at once, there’s no one to really do the job. We’ve got to build our economy and our construction industry, home-grown,” he says.
The House plan would also raise the sales tax cap on vehicles to $500. Right now, someone buying a vehicle pays no more than $300 in sales tax, no matter how much the vehicle costs. The extra money would go to roads.
There would also be a fee on out-of-state truckers who drive through the state. There would also be a new fee on hybrid vehicles and electric vehicles, since they use the roads but buy less or no gasoline.
Columbia driver Rob Schiller says, “I like the idea of working on the roads. Getting the roads better would be great, so raising taxes might help.”
But USC student Michael Gritzbach says, “As a college student who’s already struggling to pay bills and things like that, I don’t appreciate the tax at all.”
The state Senate has a separate bill, which would raise the gas tax by 12 cents a gallon. It would also phase it in, but over less time, raising the tax by four cents a gallon for three years.
The House passed a roads plan in 2015 that included a gas tax increase but the bill died in the Senate. Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, filibustered to block that bill because the state had a surplus in 2016 of more than $1 billion. He said there was no need to raise taxes when the state already had that much extra money. Lawmakers passed a plan that used some of that money for roads, but that surplus was one-time money, not a long-term source for the state’s ongoing road needs.