South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster called taxes a “killer” on Wednesday in front of the Upstate S.C. Alliance, an economic development organization whose president and CEO has endorsed a bill to raise the state’s gas tax to fix the state's deteriorating roads.
“Taxes are a killer; taxes kill jobs,” McMaster said to audience members at the Alliance’s 2017 luncheon at the TD Convention Center.
"Raising taxes is never a good idea, because it always hurts someone," McMaster told reporters. "We have a lot of young people trying to move up the ladder, we have a lot of older people on fixed income. ... The answer is raising taxes in South Carolina is not a good idea. I do not want to do it. I believe there's money in the budget and money that we're expecting to come in through the great growth that we're experiencing that we will have enough money to fix the roads."
Earlier this month, the House approved legislation that included raising the state’s gas tax by 10 cents per gallon over the next five years. That bill received full support from Upstate S.C. Alliance's President and CEO John Lummus.
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The state’s current gas tax is 16.75 cents per gallon, among the lowest in the nation.
“We are advocating for new road funding,” Lummus told The Greenville News. “I have written an op-ed advocating for the House bill. … We’re hopeful we can have some agreement on that, because we’ve got to have a way to fund roads going forward."
The Senate has its own bill that would increase the state’s gas tax by 12 cents over six years, raising nearly $800 million annually. A number of other fees would also increase, similar to the House bill.
But an attempt in the Senate on Wednesday to debate the bill by giving it "special order" status failed in a 23-18 vote, The State reported.
The failure of a debate prompted a strong response from South Carolina Chamber President and CEO Ted Pitts.
"Each day that Senators waste by refusing to take up the roads bill costs lives and money," he said in a statement. "The people of South Carolina deserve better and expect more – they want the Senate to do its job, follow the House's lead and make a long term investment in our decaying roads and decrepit brides that we can all celebrate."
McMaster didn't speculate on whether a roads bill could get through the Legislature this session. Asked, he wouldn't say if he would veto a bill if one came to him with a tax increase attached.
"We're running low on time, but, again, we have money available that we can use," he said. "It takes time to develop these plans. We've got to fix the roads as quickly as possible. We must repair what we have before we start spending that money on new roads. There are a lot of strategic decisions that we have to make."
McMaster also reacted to President Donald Trump's executive order signed Tuesday that freed up the coal industry from regulations and revoked several Obama-era measures to cut down on global warming.
McMaster said he has "serious deep concerns" if offshore drilling comes back to the table.
"No. 1, we're experiencing a renaissance of natural gas all around the country and through fracking and other things," he said. "I do not want to do anything that would jeopardize the beauty of the pristine nature of our coastlines."
Also on Wednesday, JPMorgan Chase announced a $100,000 grant to Upstate S.C. Alliance to help create the Upstate Global Competitiveness Council. The Council will work to attract more business and investment, increase small businesses, engage in exporting and build relationships between the region's public-private sector.
The Upstate S.C. Alliance also announced strategies that came out of a five-year planning process. Those strategies are geared toward luring in deeper investment for the Upstate and recruiting outside businesses.