A $4 billion spending plan, sent Wednesday to Gov. Nikki Haley, is a start — but not a fix — to repairing South Carolina’s crumbling roads, road-repair advocates said.
The plan includes repairing Malfunction Junction, replacing nearly 400 bridges and giving the governor more control of the state Transportation Department. It raises roughly 10 percent of the money needed for road repairs.
The proposal approves using about $200 million a year to borrow, via bonds, for Transportation Department projects through the S.C. Transportation Infrastructure Bank.
The money would come from diverting revenue from some fees collected by the state Department of Motor Vehicles and the amount raised by the state’s sales taxes on vehicles, capped at $300.
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With other Transportation Department money, the bill would yield $4 billion for road and bridge repairs. Roughly $40 billion is needed to get the state’s transportation system in excellent condition, the Transportation Department and others say.
“We’ve got so many crumbling roads and bridges in our state,” said Bill Ross, executive director of the S.C. Alliance to Fix Our Roads.
Some roads and bridges have deteriorated to the point that they have to be replaced completely, which costs more, Ross said.
The road-repair plan is “a great start,” said state Rep. Gary Simrill, R-York, who sponsored a gas-tax increase to pay for road repairs that passed the S.C. House in 2015.
A higher "gasoline tax is really the only long-term solution” that is not subject to the ups and downs of the state budget, Simrill said Wednesday.
S.C. Chamber of Commerce president Ted Pitts applauded lawmakers for “allocating resources to begin to bring South Carolina’s roads out of the disrepair that has hindered commerce and jeopardized the safety of our citizens for too long.”
Still, Pitts, a former chief of staff of Gov. Haley, said his business-advocacy group “will continue the work with our state’s leaders to find the long-term solution South Carolinians deserve.”
S.C. House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, urged Haley to sign the roads proposal.
“The people of South Carolina should not have to wait any longer for their dangerous roads and bridges to be repaired,” said Lucas, who lashed out Tuesday at the Senate and Haley over the then- stalled roads bill.
In a statement, Senate President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, said the roads bill is “a tremendous starting step toward fixing deficient roads and bridges throughout South Carolina.”
The added money could not be used to build any new roads, including building Interstate 73 to Myrtle Beach.
Under the plan, the governor would appoint all eight members of the commission that oversees the Transportation Department. Those appointees would have to be approved by legislators, who now appoint seven of the eight commissioners.
Tuesday deadline for governor’s budget vetoes
Republican Gov. Nikki Haley has until midnight Tuesday to send lawmakers any vetoes of the state’s roughly $7.5 billion general fund budget.
That budget is roughly $500 million more than last year.
The budget includes more than $300 million in added spending for K-12 schools. It also includes a 3.5 percent pay raise for state employees who are paid from the general fund, with federal money or from “other” funds, including fines and fees.