SC governor pledges to tackle roads next

ashain@thestate.comJuly 1, 2014 

Construction at Interstate 20 between Alpine and Spears Creek Church roads.

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Just as she did with $180 million for school fixes this year, Gov. Nikki Haley plans to tackle ways to fund roads when the Legislature meets in January.

Haley did not reveal any details about her roads plan on Tuesday, but the governor suggested at a campaign news conference in Columbia that she would use growing state revenues, like she did for her education proposal.

One senator said Haley ought to share details of her ideas before voters cast ballots in November for her re-election bid against Democratic State Sen. Vincent Sheheen of Camden.

“She’s going to have to tell us before we come back,” said Sen. Ray Cleary, a Georgetown Republican who champions road issues. “The public deserves to know before the election what are her ideas.”

Cleary’s main beef is that Haley insists she does not want to raise taxes or fees to pay for the $29 billion shortfall in roads over the next 20 years.

“When you raise the costs on transportation, you are hurting business,” Haley told reporters at a Columbia truck repair shop while receiving a small-business group’s campaign endorsement. The governor has already promised to veto any increase in the state gas tax – one of the lowest in the nation.

Haley’s $180 million education plan, which lawmakers approved for the state budget year that started Tuesday, was paid with growing state revenues from the improving economy since the recession. The plan included spending more in poorer districts, hiring reading coaches, holding summer reading programs and adding technology in classrooms.

Haley said state lawmakers wanted to improve education but had no plan. So the governor’s office developed a spending proposal and legislators “ran with it,” she said.

That’s the game plan Haley said she will use with roads.

She said, “South Carolina is doing well,” suggesting that she might recommend using rising tax revenues to pay for roads like she did for schools.

“We can find money for that,” she said.

Haley pitched during her State of the State address this year to use a budget surplus seen in recent years to pay for roads – what she called “the money tree.”

Critics say the money is not a reliable source of revenue, though the state had an extra $86 million this year.

Lawmakers did not act on her initial proposal – a year after adopting their own plan that could provide $500 million for roads.

Cleary said that without adding new revenues, such as a higher gas tax or new vehicle fees, the state cannot meet its road repair needs. He said her education plan also fell short of fixing school needs, such as bringing state teacher pay to the national average.

“You have to give her credit that she eliminated the ‘money tree,’ ” Cleary said.

Reach Shain at (803) 771-8619.

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