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Senate Republicans kill effort to debate roads bill

Eighteen Republican senators voted against starting debate Wednesday on a plan to repair the state’s crumbling roads. The move could doom passing a roads plan for a third year.

The S.C. Senate voted 23-18 to give the bill “special order” status, ensuring it would be debated and, most likely, voted on. But, while most senators — 16 Democrats and seven Republicans — voted to debate the bill, the effort failed because granting priority status requires the support of two-thirds of senators, or 28.

The plan would increase the state’s gas tax by 12 cents a gallon and hike other fees, moves that would raise about $800 million a year to repair the state’s crumbling roads.

Some GOP opponents want any roads deal to also include income tax cuts and change to the structure of the Department of Transportation.

"We are not going to support a straight-up tax increase," said Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, R-Edgefield.

But, Massey added, Senate Republicans are committed to passing road-funding legislation this year. "We are not trying to kill this bill."

Senate Republicans did just that the last two years.

A filibuster by libertarian-leaning Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, killed the gas-tax proposal in 2016. And Davis has not indicated he will support any tax hike this year.

To reach a road-repair deal this year, Senate Democrats and other Republicans will have to strike a compromise — involving some combination of a gas-tax hike and an income-tax cut.

Former S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley, for instance, proposed an income tax-cut would have benefited high-income South Carolinians most and cut far more from the state budget than the gas-tax hike would raise.

Democrats, the Senate’s minority party, argue the state cannot afford a tax cut.

"The Republicans have to come to grips on: ‘How do they want to govern?’" said state Sen. Darrell Jackson, D-Richland.

"No one is losing their life because of not getting a tax cut,” Jackson added. “But people are losing their lives because the roads are dangerous."

Cassie Cope: 803-771-8657, @cassielcope

How senators voted

Senators defeated a proposal Wednesday to start debate of a road-repair bill, a proposal that required 28 votes

Senators voting against debate — 18, all Republicans. Sean Bennett, Dorchester; Wes Climer, York; Tom Corbin, Greenville; Tom Davis, Beaufort; Stephen Goldfinch, Georgetown; Larry Grooms, Berkeley; Greg Hembree, Horry; Shane Martin, Spartanburg; Shane Massey, Edgefield; Harvey Peeler, Cherokee; Rex Rice, Pickens; Sandy Senn, Charleston; Katrina Shealy, Lexington; Scott Talley, Spartanburg; William Timmons, Greenville; Ross Turner, Greenville; Danny Verdin, Laurens; Tom Young, Aiken

Senators voting to debate the bill — 23. Thomas Alexander, R-Oconee; Karl Allen, D-Greenville; Paul Campbell, R-Berkeley; Ronnie Cromer, R-Newberry; Mike Fanning, D-Fairfield; Mike Gambrell, R-Anderson; Greg Gregory, R-Lancaster; Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg; Darrell Jackson, D-Richland; Kevin Johnson, D-Clarendon; Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston; Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence; Gerald Malloy, D-Darlington; John Matthews, D-Orangeburg; Margie Bright Matthews, D-Jasper; Mia McLeod, D-Richland; Floyd Nicholson, D-Greenwood; Luke Rankin, R-Horry; Glenn Reese, D-Spartanburg; John Scott, D-Richland; Nikki Setzler, D-Lexington; Vincent Sheheen, D-Kershaw; Kent Williams, D-Marion

Senators not voting — 5. Chip Campsen, R-Charleston; Thomas McElveen, D-Sumter; and Ronnie Saab, D-Williamsburg, all on leave; John Courson, R-Richland, suspended; District 3 seat, vacant