Fuel-efficient cars cut into money for SC road repairs

abeam@thestate.comFebruary 4, 2014 

— Actors Rob Riggle and James Franco told 111 million Super Bowl viewers Sunday that the 2014 Ford Fusion hybrid has twice the fuel economy of the average car.

That has S.C. lawmakers worried.

As gas mileage increases, the number of gallons of gasoline purchased in South Carolina is decreasing — threatening the state’s gas tax revenues, the major way the state pays for road repairs. As a result of that drop, in the fiscal year that starts July 1, South Carolina is projected to collect less in gas taxes than it will collect this fiscal year.

That looming specter was enough Tuesday for state senators to delay a bill that would encourage more South Carolinians to buy hybrid and electric cars. The bill, S.402, would offer tax credits of up to $1,000 toward the purchase of a hybrid or electric car, along with re-establishing some tax credits for alternative-fuel vehicles.

“It seems like we are robbing Peter to pay Paul a little bit,” said state Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Richland. “I’m eco-sensitive to what it can mean for alternative fuels, but I want to make sure (hybrid or electric cars) are paying their fair share on the roads.”

Some amendments to a bill in the state Senate, H.3412, would address that concern, imposing a $60-a-year fee on hybrid car owners and a $120 annual fee on electric-car owners — money that would go to the state Department of Transportation for road maintenance.

“Right now, if we don’t do something on the gasoline tax, the revenue actually goes down,” said Sen. Paul Campbell, R-Berkeley. “It’s got to go back up again, otherwise we are in trouble.”

Others want the state to get away from depending on the gas tax.

Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley, wants the state to pay for roads with state income and sales taxes, taxes that now pay for other services, including schools.

“Under that scenario, it is balanced,” Grooms said. “You don’t have to worry about electric vehicles.”

Sen. Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, suggested changing the way the state collects the gas tax. Instead of charging for each gallon of gas purchased, it could charge for each mile driven. Oregon plans to test a similar plan in 2015, refunding the gas taxes paid by 5,000 volunteers in exchange for a tax of 1.5 cents per mile driven.

“We’ve got to do something,” Leatherman said. “You can’t do it all gasoline tax.”

Reach Beam at (803) 386-7038.

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