S.C. lawmakers just might pass a plan to fix the state’s crumbling roads before going home in June after all.
Republican state senators will introduce a road-repair plan Thursday that they say will raise money for roads, cut income taxes and reform the state Department of Transportation.
Those Republicans would not reveal details of their proposal Wednesday, but those three elements — higher taxes for roads, lower income taxes and Transportation Department reform — have been central to road-repair debate since Republican Gov. Nikki Haley said she would require all three in her January State of the State address.
“Any plan that stands any chance of success has to have a component of governance, has to have the component of additional revenue, it has to have a component of competitive tax rates with our neighboring states,” said state Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee.
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The GOP-dominated House attempted to address Haley’s demands by passing a bill that would raise roughly $427 million by increasing the state gas tax by the equivalent of 10 cents a gallon and raising the cap on the state’s sales tax on vehicles to $500 from $300.
The House plan, sponsored by state Rep. Gary Simrill, R-York, was approved 87-20. It also includes an income tax cut that would save the average S.C. taxpayer $48. That plan was approved with a large enough majority to survive a promised veto by Haley, who says the House plan does not have a big tax cut.
Haley had proposed a 2 percentage point cut in the state’s top income tax rate. That would save taxpayers roughly $689 on average. But it also would cut the state’s general fund revenues by nearly $2 billion a year, hurting education, law enforcement and health care, critics say.
Haley says the tax cut would be offset by growth in state revenues.
Grooms said the Senate GOP roads plan, to be unveiled Thursday morning, will be an amendment to the current roads bill before the Senate. That bill, sponsored by state Sen. Ray Cleary, R-Georgetown, would raise roughly $800 million a year for roads by increasing the gas tax by 12 cents a gallon and the maximum sales tax on vehicles to $600.
But Cleary’s plan has been criticized by some senators for not including a tax cut or reforming the state Transportation Department.
While Republicans hold a majority of seats in the Senate, they do not control the body. The GOP’s moderate, establishment and Tea Party factions often disagree, with one faction — or another — sometimes allying with Senate Democrats to decide an issue.
“We need to have more confidence in who is spending the money and how the money’s being spent — so (Transportation Department reform) has to be part of the plan,” said Sen. Shane Massey, R-Edgefield.
Massey said lawmakers recognize a roads fix is going to take more money.
“The debate has always been about where that money comes from,” Massey said, adding tax relief also is essential.
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