SC ponders many routes to repair roads

abeam@thestate.comApril 24, 2013 

  • Road woes Lawmakers have introduced eight bills to spend more money on roads:

    S. 14: Sponsored by state Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley, this would create a Palmetto Highway Improvement Fund to save money for road repairs. Lawmakers only would put money in the account if the state’s general fund grew by least 3 percent in a year. That only has happened twice, according to the S.C. Board of Economic Advisors.

    S. 149: Sponsored by state Sen. Greg Gregory, R-Lancaster, this would allow counties to impose a 2-cents-a-gallon gas tax for road repairs if voters approved. If every county collected the tax, it would raise $60 million a year. More populated counties would get the most.

    S. 209: Sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler, R-Gaffney, this would transfer the State Infrastructure Bank to the state Department of Transportation.

    S. 210: Sponsored by state Sen. Shane Martin, R-Spartanburg, would spend 100 percent of the sales taxes collected on car sales on road repairs, about $100 million a year.

    S. 411: Sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Nikki Setzler, D-Lexington, this would borrow about $500 million and give it to county transportation boards to repair local roads.

    S. 600: Sponsored by Sen. Peeler, this would impose a tax on out-of-state truckers to pay for road repairs. In-state truckers already pay the tax.

    S. 616: Sponsored by Sen. Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, this would allow counties to impose a 1-cent sales tax for road repairs if voters approved. Also, it would increase registration fees for cars and create new registration fees for alternative-fuel vehicles, including electric and hybrid vehicles.

    H. 3412: Sponsored by House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, this would spend 80 percent of the sales taxes collected on car sales for road repairs, about $80 million a year. The House already has approved the bill.

Gary Youmans is tired of taking the long way.

For years, the Hampton County sod farmer has had to take a five-mile detour to avoid a “structurally deficient” bridge that won’t hold his 18-wheeler, just to reach one of his fields. The alternate route takes longer and requires more gas, cutting into Youmans’ profits.

“Five miles out of the way, multiple times a day, every day harvesting out of our field,” Youmans said. “I don’t see any progress on getting (the state’s roads and bridges) repaired.”

Over the next 20 years, S.C. officials estimate it will cost $48.3 billion to repair roads and bridges. Current funding sources — federal highway money and state gas taxes — will generate $19 billion, leaving a $29 billion deficit.

To make up that deficit, most state lawmakers agree the state needs to spend more money on roads and bridges.

But they can’t agree on how to do it.

“When you have a $30 billion problem, sometimes it’s just easier to give up,” S.C. Chamber of Commerce vice president Darrell Scott said, when asked why lawmakers have been slow to address road funding.

Conservative Republicans want to shift money from other places to pay for roads. Meanwhile, moderate Republicans and Democrats have put forward proposals to raise taxes or borrow money to make repairs.

This week, a state Senate subcommittee began vetting eight transportation bills. Chairman Ray Cleary, R-Georgetown, said he hopes to cobble together a compromise by May 7.

“While everybody agrees you need to deal with infrastructure, the real battle is going on between folks who want to raise taxes to do it and those who want to redirect revenue streams to do it,” said House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, who opposes raising taxes.

Gov. Nikki Haley urged lawmakers to use a portion of the state surplus to repair bridges. In their budget proposal, House lawmakers voted to do that and also set aside $80 million of the roughly $100 million in sales taxes on cars that the state collects each year.

Some conservative senators, including state Sen. Shane Martin, R-Spartanburg, support that option. More moderate Republicans, including Sens. Greg Gregory of Lancaster and Hugh Leatherman of Florence, have proposed giving counties the option of raising taxes to pay for roads.

Given a rundown of the various proposals, Youmans said it did not matter to him which one lawmakers chose, as long as they fix the roads.

“They’re terrible,” he said. “It is unsafe to drive.”

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