SC Senate bill would borrow $500 million for state roads

jself@thestate.comFebruary 20, 2013 

— Counties will have $500 million in transportation dollars to spend on roads if a bill introduced in the state Senate Wednesday becomes law.

Senate Minority Leader Nikki Setzler, D-Lexington, introduced the proposal, which would authorize the state to borrow $500 million for transportation bonds.

If it becomes law, Setzler said the bill would “make a dent” in the state’s failing road system, which the state’s Transportation Department chief has said needs $29 billion in repairs over the next 20 years.

The $500 million would be distributed to county transportation committees using an existing S.C. Transportation Department formula used for distributing state gas tax revenue to counties for road improvements. The formula takes into account a county’s geographic area, population and mileage of state roads in determining how much money to give.

State transportation officials and county transportation committees would work together to decide where to use the money. It could be used to improve existing state roads or build new roads or bridges.

An additional $46 million in recurring money in the state’s general fund, announced last week by state economists, could help pay for the bonds, Setzler said.

The state has not authorized bonds for transportation since 1999, Setzler said on the Senate floor after introducing his bill. “Our system is deteriorating and crumbling on a daily basis,” he said, noting the GOP-controlled Legislature has indicated a gas tax hike is “off the table.”

There have been other proposals to help pay for road improvements, including one by S.C. House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, that would allocate sales taxes on vehicles for road maintenance. But those proposals are “like a raindrop on Lake Murray,” Setzler said.

Gov. Nikki Haley recently called for the state to spend $100 million from its added revenue on roads and bridges.

In response to Setzler’s bill, Haley’s spokesman Rob Godfrey said in a statement, “Instead of leveraging South Carolina’s credit rating, let’s prioritize our spending and pay for infrastructure this year – just like the governor proposed in her executive budget.”

Setzler said Haley’s proposal “doesn’t touch the problem.” His bill has 20 co-sponsors, including some Republicans.

Senate Pro Tempore John Courson, R-Richland, said he is co-sponsoring the bill to start a serious debate about addressing the state’s transportation needs – the business community’s top priority.

“The more money we put into it now, the less we’ll have to put into it in the future,” he said.

Reach Self at (803)771-8658

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