Elliott: Why I voted against the House roads bill

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South Carolina’s roads and bridges are crumbling, and the state House of Representatives took an important first step earlier this month to solve this safety and economic development crisis. You can follow the progress of this bill here.

The House bill secures permanent funding sources and places a projected $550 million in new funding into an Infrastructure Trust Fund that can only be spent fixing existing roads and bridges.

The new funding sources include:

  • Raising the gas tax by 2 cents per gallon for five years, resulting in a 10 cents per gallon increase when fully implemented. It is estimated that one-third of the gas tax will come from out-of-state drivers who use South Carolina roads.
  • Raising the sales tax cap on vehicles purchased in South Carolina from $300 to $500.
  • New South Carolina residents paying $250 to register each vehicle for the first time in our state.
  • Increasing vehicle registration fees by $16 (renewal is every two years).
  • Charging a fee of $60 every two years for hybrid vehicles.
  • Charging a fee of $120 every two years for electric vehicles.

 

The S.C. Department of Transportation (SCDOT) estimates that approximately $1 billion per year is needed to fix our over 40,000 miles of state roads.

The bill provides modest reform by allowing the governor to select the SCDOT Commission with approval by the House and Senate. The commissioners would then hire the SCDOT secretary.

While I commend the House leadership for their hard work in trying to solve the roads problem, I voted “no” on the current version of the bill. Here’s why:

1) Unquestionably, money is required to fix and maintain our roads and bridges. But we are squandering a great opportunity to provide real SCDOT reform as part of this process. South Carolina government needs to move into the 21st century. The appointment of SCDOT commissioners occurs through a confusing legislative process that results in blurred lines of authority and a lack of accountability.

2) The Department of Transportation should be an agency in the governor’s cabinet. As the chief executive officer of our state, the governor should have the power to appoint and the ability to remove the SCDOT secretary.  The buck should stop with the governor, and he or she should be held accountable for the agency’s performance. We need to eliminate the SCDOT Commission, and I introduced a bill to accomplish this.

3) South Carolina maintains over 40,000 miles of roads. Less than 7 cents per gallon of our current 16.75 cents per gallon gas tax goes directly to fix these roads. The remainder goes to DOT salaries, federal matching funds, and other state agencies. The state gas tax needs to go directly to fix and maintain our roads.

4) We should also protect our hardworking citizens who live paycheck to paycheck by providing those earning less than $30,000 a year with a tax credit to help offset higher gas taxes.
On the Senate side, the Senate Finance Committee this week raised the proposed gas tax increase to 12 cents per gallon over 6 years and eliminated the meager reforms contained in the House bill. This bill will now come back to the House after the full Senate passes its own version of the roads plan. All this action has occurred in both houses as Gov. Henry McMaster has consistently said he is against a gas tax increase, stating that it is the “last resort.”

I continue to fight to fix our roads and will work with my House colleagues, the Senate, and Gov. McMaster to finish the job of fixing our roads and creating an efficient SCDOT that is accountable to you.

Jason Elliott is the state representative for District 22 and a Greenville attorney. He can be reached at jasonelliott@schouse.gov  and 864-235-5308/803-212-6877.

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