Politics & Government

Business leaders: Raise gas tax or risk jobs, development

South Carolina could miss out on new jobs and economic development if lawmakers delay passing a gas tax increase, business leaders said Tuesday.

Executives met at the State House to rail against crumbling S.C. roads that they say cost businesses millions of dollars a year in added maintenance and fuel costs.

They voiced full-throated support of an S.C. House proposal to raise the gas tax, last increased 30 years ago, and other fees to pay to repair the country’s deadliest roads.

“We’ve seen the situation only get worse, and we really do believe, at this point, we’re at the end of the road,” said Pete Selleck, president of Greenville-based Michelin North America. “If we do not come up with a solid plan this year that is sufficient and sustainable over the long term, we believe that, going forward, it’s going to do significant damage to this state.”

The House is expected to pass the proposal again this year. The real battle is in the S.C. Senate, where libertarian Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, again has vowed to filibuster the bill.

Business leaders’ support for a gas tax increase is not new. In 2014, Selleck called S.C. roads a “disgrace” and hinted their disrepair might give Michelin pause in deciding whether to expand in the Palmetto State.

But the business community increasingly has rallied behind the cause, describing the state’s roads with an growing sense of urgency.

The S.C. Department of Transportation estimates it needs an added $1 billion a year to repair the state’s roads and bridges.

“We don’t need a ‘Welcome to South Carolina’ sign,” said Lou Kennedy, chief executive of Nephron Pharmaceuticals. “We know we’re here based on the condition of our roads.”

Staff writer Cassie Cope contributed to this story. Avery G. Wilks: 803-771-8362, @averygwilks

Raising the gas tax

The House’s roads bill would cost $60 a year for a driver who travels 15,000 miles a year in a vehicle that gets 25 miles per gallon. On top of the gas tax increase, S.C. drivers would face an added:

▪  $16 fee every two years to register a vehicle

▪  $60 in fees every two years if they own a hybrid vehicle

▪  $120 in fees every two years if they own an electric vehicle

▪  Up to $200 in added sales taxes if they buy a used car that costs between $6,000 and $10,000. Buyers who purchase vehicles that cost more than $10,000 also would pay an added $200. That tax hike is the result of increasing the cap on the sales tax on vehicle sales to $500.

▪  A one-time fee of up to $250 if they buy a vehicle out of state and register it in South Carolina.