Eighteen Republican senators voted against starting debate Wednesday on a plan to repair the state’s crumbling roads. The move could doom passing a roads plan for a third year.
The S.C. Senate voted 23-18 to give the bill “special order” status, ensuring it would be debated and, most likely, voted on. But, while most senators — 16 Democrats and seven Republicans — voted to debate the bill, the effort failed because granting priority status requires the support of two-thirds of senators, or 28.
The plan would increase the state’s gas tax by 12 cents a gallon and hike other fees, moves that would raise about $800 million a year to repair the state’s crumbling roads.
Some GOP opponents want any roads deal to also include income tax cuts and change to the structure of the Department of Transportation.
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"We are not going to support a straight-up tax increase," said Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, R-Edgefield.
But, Massey added, Senate Republicans are committed to passing road-funding legislation this year. "We are not trying to kill this bill."
Senate Republicans did just that the last two years.
A filibuster by libertarian-leaning Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, killed the gas-tax proposal in 2016. And Davis has not indicated he will support any tax hike this year.
To reach a road-repair deal this year, Senate Democrats and other Republicans will have to strike a compromise — involving some combination of a gas-tax hike and an income-tax cut.
Former S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley, for instance, proposed an income tax-cut would have benefited high-income South Carolinians most and cut far more from the state budget than the gas-tax hike would raise.
Democrats, the Senate’s minority party, argue the state cannot afford a tax cut.
"The Republicans have to come to grips on: ‘How do they want to govern?’" said state Sen. Darrell Jackson, D-Richland.
"No one is losing their life because of not getting a tax cut,” Jackson added. “But people are losing their lives because the roads are dangerous."
How senators voted
Senators defeated a proposal Wednesday to start debate of a road-repair bill, a proposal that required 28 votes
Senators voting against debate — 18, all Republicans. Sean Bennett, Dorchester; Wes Climer, York; Tom Corbin, Greenville; Tom Davis, Beaufort; Stephen Goldfinch, Georgetown; Larry Grooms, Berkeley; Greg Hembree, Horry; Shane Martin, Spartanburg; Shane Massey, Edgefield; Harvey Peeler, Cherokee; Rex Rice, Pickens; Sandy Senn, Charleston; Katrina Shealy, Lexington; Scott Talley, Spartanburg; William Timmons, Greenville; Ross Turner, Greenville; Danny Verdin, Laurens; Tom Young, Aiken
Senators voting to debate the bill — 23. Thomas Alexander, R-Oconee; Karl Allen, D-Greenville; Paul Campbell, R-Berkeley; Ronnie Cromer, R-Newberry; Mike Fanning, D-Fairfield; Mike Gambrell, R-Anderson; Greg Gregory, R-Lancaster; Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg; Darrell Jackson, D-Richland; Kevin Johnson, D-Clarendon; Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston; Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence; Gerald Malloy, D-Darlington; John Matthews, D-Orangeburg; Margie Bright Matthews, D-Jasper; Mia McLeod, D-Richland; Floyd Nicholson, D-Greenwood; Luke Rankin, R-Horry; Glenn Reese, D-Spartanburg; John Scott, D-Richland; Nikki Setzler, D-Lexington; Vincent Sheheen, D-Kershaw; Kent Williams, D-Marion
Senators not voting — 5. Chip Campsen, R-Charleston; Thomas McElveen, D-Sumter; and Ronnie Saab, D-Williamsburg, all on leave; John Courson, R-Richland, suspended; District 3 seat, vacant