State senators moved Wednesday to scuttle a House attempt to force a special legislative session this summer to take up a plan to fix the state’s crumbling roads.
With lawmakers set to go home again Thursday after a three-day special session, the House voted 84-9 to add its road-repair plan to a resolution to bring lawmakers back to Columbia to handle certain issues, including Gov. Nikki Haley’s budget vetoes.
The intent was “to, hopefully, force the Senate’s hand to deal with infrastructure,” said House Assistant Majority Leader Gary Simrill, R-York.
But senators rejected the idea, sending it Wednesday to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
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Judiciary chairman Larry Martin, R-Pickens, said lawmakers are back in Columbia – their regular session ended June 4 – is to pass a budget. His panel will not consider recommending debating roads until a budget is passed, he added.
Even then, there is likely to be little appetite to handle roads this summer “unless there is some breakthrough in the discussions,” Martin said.
Martin said his committee would not take up reviving the roads debate unless Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler, R-Cherokee, and Minority Leader Nikki Setzler, D-Lexington, tell him they have enough votes to pass a plan to pay for road repairs.
The House’s effort to pressure the Senate was bipartisan. Simrill introduced the proposal with House Majority Leader Bruce Bannister, R-Greenville, and Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, D-Richland.
“It’s refreshing to see Democrats and Republicans come together around a good idea to get something done,” said Rutherford in a news release. “(N)one of us wanted to go home without passing a roads bill this year.”
S.C. House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, said the House vote proves fixing roads is not a partisan issue.
“It’s a South Carolina issue and requires immediate attention,” Lucas said in a statement. “There is no excuse for the Senate to continue to delay progress, and we look forward to working with them as they craft a mutually agreeable, responsible plan.”
Critics have blamed the Senate for failing to act this year on a road-repair proposal. State Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, filibustered the last three weeks of the Senate session to block a bill that would increase the state’s gas tax to pay for roads.
On Tuesday, Majority Leader Peeler also blamed Senate President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman for the gridlock, saying the Florence Republican has too many leadership roles to run the Senate effectively.
Leatherman said Tuesday that addressing the state’s multibillion-dollar road needs “is not a one-year issue,” adding, “It (will) take two years to get a road-funding bill through.”
The House’s Simrill said representatives never thought addressing the state’s transportation needs would take two years.
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Lawmakers closer to a budget deal
Legislators took action Wednesday to get several spending proposals to a six-member conference committee that will try to work out the differences between House and Senate budget proposals for the state’s fiscal year that starts July 1.
▪ The House approved funding state government at current levels through July 24 to give lawmakers more time to pass a budget. They also extended Gov. Nikki Haley’s power to appoint the head of the state Transportation Department.
▪ The House and Senate sent a proposal to spend money from a state savings account to the six-member conference committee, where it will be negotiated with the budget.
▪ The Senate Finance Committee approved using roughly $216 million from a state budget surplus for road repairs, roughly $70 million for roads than the House had OK’d. To do that, the panel reduced spending for Health and Human Services, a child-support system for the Department of Social Services and to provide defense attorneys to poor defendants. The panel agreed to a House-passed plan to use $70 million to pay for Volvo incentives, money for an Interstate 26 interchange. The panel also approved a one-time $800 bonus for state employees who make less than $100,000. The surplus-spending goes to the full Senate Thursday. If it passes, it too will go the six-member budget conference committee.
▪ Senate leader Hugh Leatherman said he is prepared to work through the weekend on that conference committee, hoping to have a budget for the House and Senate to consider Tuesday.