State senators are off this week, but groups on both sides of the gas-tax hike debate will be working hard nonetheless.
The S.C. Senate adjourned Thursday with the effort to pass a higher gas tax to pay to repair the state’s crumbling roads in a priority spot for debate, awaiting lawmakers’ April 18 return.
Until then, groups — pro and con — plan to lobby specific senators, urging them to oppose or increase a gas-tax hike.
Those groups made some noise earlier this session with dueling press conferences, urging senators to vote one way or the other on the bill.
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The anti-gas-tax-hike Americans for Prosperity group — backed by the libertarian, conservative billionaire Kansas-based Koch brothers — opposes an increase to the gas tax without offsetting tax cuts or changes to the structure of the S.C. Department of Transportation.
This session, AFP has been building grassroots across the state and using a digital campaign on Facebook, said its state director, Daniel Brennan .
Leading up to the Senate debate, Brennan said his group plans to target five of the seven Republican senators who voted to start debate on a Senate Finance Committee-approved proposal that includes a tax-hike only.
The group’s messaging will focus on GOP state Sens. Thomas Alexander of Oconee, Paul Campbell of Berkeley, Ronnie Cromer of Newberry, Mike Gambrell of Anderson and Greg Gregory of Lancaster, he said.
Brennan plans to operate phone banks calling into those districts. But he doesn’t plan to use robocalls, a method that drew ire from some senators last year. Those robocalls caused senators to say AFP — an out-of-state group that gets “dark money” from unknown donors — had misrepresented the gas-tax debate.
Brennan, who took over leadership of the group this year, said he does not think robocalls are effective. “I don’t believe in robocalls.”
AFP also will do interviews with radio shows and newspapers, Brennan said.
A pro-gas tax hike group, the S.C. Alliance to Fix Our Roads, plans to lobby equally hard for the Senate to pass a gas-tax hike.
The alliance has the backing of several groups, including chambers of commerce, AAA of the Carolinas, the S.C. Trucking Association, contractors, consultants and other road-related organizations.
The group brought company chief executives and employers to the State House for a press conference last month to show “the Legislature that South Carolina business needs some type of road bill to invest more in the state,” said Jordan Marsh, spokesman for the alliance.
Leading up to the roads debate, the group plans to target all senators, paying specific attention to the 18 GOP senators who voted against starting debate on the road-repair bill.
“While 18 Republican Senators voted against the motion to place the road bill on special order, we believe a majority of those senators would support a comprehensive road funding bill in 2017,” Marsh said.
He noted some of the senators who voted against starting debate previously have voted for, introduced or sponsored, or publicly supported gas-tax legislation. “We are confident a bipartisan compromise plan can pass the Senate this year.”
The alliance plans to have business and community leaders contact those senators, Marsh said.
The S.C. Chamber of Commerce President and its chief executive, Ted Pitts, also will be a part of the conversation. Business leaders are calling their senators to tell them just how important the road-repair bill is, Pitts said.
The chamber also has launched a website, thecostoflosing.com, to urge its constituents to push senators to pass the bill.
After Gov. Henry McMaster’s promise to veto a gas-tax hike, lawmakers have to have a two-thirds supermajority in both chambers vote for the road-repair bill in order to ensure it becomes law.
“The Legislature has to do their job on this,” said Pitts.