Deep political divisions surfaced quickly Thursday as the state Senate started consideration of a new road-repair plan.
No decisions were made. But battle lines emerged over the proposal, a package combining a gas-tax increase and other fee hikes for road improvements, changes in the state agencies that oversee those projects, and cuts in income and property taxes for individuals and businesses.
The plan mixes proposals advocated by Republicans, Democrats and GOP Gov. Nikki Haley.
▪ Roughly $665 million a year in higher taxes for road repairs, to be phased in over three years
▪ Nearly $400 million a year in tax cuts, to be phased in over four years.
▪ Revamping the boards that oversee the state Department of Transportation and State Infrastructure Bank.
State Sen. Thomas McElveen, D-Sumter, branded the package “a three-headed monster,” saying it faces an uncertain future.
The proposal was developed through a series of trade-offs that produced a framework “everybody likes but nobody loves,” said Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Richland, who helped shape the plan.
For example, Lourie said he has “a lot of heartburn” over the proposal’s tax cuts at the same time that schools and other services need more state money. But the cuts are necessary for any road-repair plan that includes higher gas taxes to win acceptance from the GOP-controlled General Assembly and Haley, the Democrat said.
Some Republicans warned a gas-tax hike will founder unless accompanied by tax cuts. “I find it baffling we don’t want to give money back to taxpayers,” said state Sen. Sean Bennett, R-Dorchester.
State Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, renewed his resistance to a gas-tax hike, arguing growth in state revenues is sufficient to budget more money for roads.
That’s a fallback, “piecemeal” step, Lourie said.
State Sen. Nikki Setzler of Lexington, leader of Senate Democrats, warned against settling for “a quick fix” that doesn’t include correcting problems in the way that the state’s two roads agencies are run.
Some senators predict slow going in reaching a roads deal, demanded by business and highway safety groups.
Sen. John Scott, D-Richland, said the road-repair package contains all the “pieces of the puzzle,” but many of its features do not appear to be arranged to achieve consensus.
However, Senate President Pro Tem Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, pledged to push for agreement soon on a proposal, stalled for nearly a year in the Senate.
Tim Flach: 803-771-8483