Politics & Government

Senate panel OKs higher, 12-cent-a-gallon gas-tax hike

File photo
File photo tglantz@thestate.com

A S.C. Senate panel approved a proposal Wednesday to increase the state’s gas tax by 12 cents a gallon, two cents more than a House-passed proposal.

If it becomes law, the Senate proposal would raise $800 million a year to repair the state’s crumbling roads.

However, senators indicated they expect fights over whether to address two other issues in the road-repair bill — whether to give the governor more control of the state Transportation Department and whether to include any offsetting income tax cuts.

The plan now moves to the full Senate Finance Committee, where more changes to the House bill could occur.

A special Senate panel approved raising the state’s 16.75-cent-a-gallon gas tax by 12 cents a gallon. That tax — now the second-lowest state gas tax in the nation — would be increased by 2 cents a year for six years.

The S.C. House last week approved raising that tax by 10 cents a gallon, phasing in the increase over five years.

Other driving fees also would be imposed and increased.

The panel also stripped out parts of the House proposal that would give the governor more control of the Transportation Department, the state’s roads agency.

State Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, tried to re-insert proposals to give the governor more say over that agency, but his proposals failed Wednesday.

Davis said changes passed in the Transportation Department’s structure last year were a sham. Those changes allowed the governor to appoint all of the Transportation Department’s commissioners. But critics say the changes still gave the Legislature too much control over road commissioners and do not allow the governor to remove commissioners.

Some senators also want to include offsetting tax cuts in the plan.

State Sen. Greg Hembree, R-Horry, said Wednesday he supported increasing the gas tax, noting out-of-state drivers would help pay the tax. But he said he only would support a gas-tax hike if it also included tax cuts.

Spending money on road repairs out of the general fund budget — made up of state income and sales taxes — as lawmakers have done for the past few years, punishes S.C. citizens and gives a gift to out-of-state residents, Hembree said.

Cassie Cope: 803-771-8657, @cassielcope