A plan to raise S.C. gas taxes by roughly $60 a year was approved Tuesday by a panel of S.C. House members.
The bill will be considered Thursday by the full House budget-writing panel.
The tax hike is an effort to pay for the added $1 billion a year the state Transportation Department says it needs to repair and maintain the state’s road.
The proposal is expected to raise $600 million a year. About $400 million of that total would come from a 10-cent-a-gallon gas tax increase.
The higher tax would cost $60 a year for a driver who travels 15,000 miles a year in a vehicle that gets 25 miles per gallon. S.C. motorists who drive more would pay more; those who drive less would pay less.
On top of that, S.C. drivers would face an added:
▪ $16 fee every two years to register a vehicle
▪ $60 in fees every two years if they own a hybrid vehicle
▪ $120 in fees every two years if they own an electric vehicle
▪ Up to $200 in added sales taxes if they buy a used car that costs between $6,000 and $10,000. Buyers who purchase vehicles that cost more than $10,000 also would pay an added $200. That tax hike is the result of increasing the cap on the sales tax on vehicle sales to $500.
▪ A one-time fee of up to $250 if they buy a vehicle out of state and register it in South Carolina.
Among those speaking in favor of the proposal were representatives of the S.C. Trucking Association, the S.C. Alliance to Fix Our Roads and the S.C. Forestry Association.
Rural roads are a major safety hazard, said Cam Crawford of the S.C. Forestry Association, adding their poor condition increases the cost of delivering logs to paper mills and saw mills.
Opponents said increasing the sales tax cap could hurt used-car buyers and objected the fee on hybrid vehicles was unfair.
Lynn Murray of JM Family Enterprises noted hybrid vehicle owners already pay for gasoline. "We just feel like it’s a double tax," she said, adding, "We’re paying at the pump. We’re doing our fair share."
But state Rep. Gary Simrill, R-York, said the fee ensures owners of more fuel-efficient vehicles, "using the roadways, help pay for the roadways."
The Koch Brothers-backed Americans for Prosperity group issued a statement urging lawmakers to oppose a gas-tax hike. The politically active brothers’ multi-billion-dollar business empire includes oil refineries.
The group urged lawmakers to make the Transportation Department a cabinet agency, reporting directly to the governor, instead of raising driving costs.
“A series of tax and fee increases on our roads, vehicles and gasoline won’t solve the problem alone,” AFP South Carolina director Daniel Brennan said in a statement. “South Carolina needs a DOT that is accountable to the citizens as a true cabinet agency.”
Advocate says gas-tax needed, despite $5 billion request
The budget panel subcommittee passed the proposal a day after Gov. Henry McMaster asked President Donald Trump for $5 billion to repair S.C. roads and bridges as part of an national infrastructure plan.
But Simrill said South Carolina cannot depend solely on McMaster’s request.
“South Carolina can not wait on the federal government to take care of our problems,” Simrill said. “If the federal government steps in, that is a welcome and added bonus, but it does not take away from what we are trying to do now.”
McMaster has been publicly silent on whether he would veto or support a gas-tax increase. But Simrill said Tuesday that McMaster has told him that he will not propose a competing roads plan.
McMaster is studying the issue, Simrill said, adding the new governor wants to solve the funding problem.