Politics & Government

SC House quashes Gov. McMaster’s gas-tax veto

The S.C. House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly Wednesday morning to quash S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster’s gas-tax veto.

The vote was 95 to 18.

McMaster chose to listen “to campaign consultants, rather than the people of the great state of South Carolina,” S.C. House Speaker Jay Lucas said in a speech before the vote.

The veto override now moves on to the state Senate where a vote is expected later today.

Lucas said Wednesday that McMaster failed to offer a viable solution to fix the state’s roads.

Freshman lawmaker Rep. Micah Caskey, R-Lexington, said McMaster “chose to remain silent, he chose not to act, he chose not to lead.”

Instead, Caskey said, McMaster focused on next year’s GOP primary — a low-turnout vote, dominated by anti-tax voters — and worried “about your own career.”

McMaster’s office responded Wednesday afternoon.

“For the governor this is a simple policy disagreement,” said the governor’s spokesman spokesman Brian Symmes. “He doesn’t believe that raising taxes is the best way to address government’s inefficiencies.”

Before taking over for S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley, who resigned to join the Trump Administration, McMaster was silent on whether he supported a gas-tax hike.

However, as governor, McMaster asked President Donald Trump for $5 billion to pay for road repairs, adding raising the gas tax should be a “last resort.” Later, McMaster urged lawmakers to borrow up to $1 billion to pay for road repairs, instead of repairing state buildings.

In his veto message, however, McMaster said more money was not the solution, a claim that representatives mocked Wednesday.

Speaker Lucas said “those claims are not true,” saying McMaster chose “politics over policy” and “failed to offer a viable solution,” only suggesting the state rearrange the “deck chairs on the Titantic.”

After more than two years of debate, senators and House members agreed earlier this week on a plan to raise the state’s gas tax by 12 cents a gallon and increase other driving fees to provide about $630 million a year for road repairs.

The S.C. Department of Transportation has estimated it needs $1 billion to repair the state’s roads to excellent condition.

Late Tuesday, McMaster vetoed the road repair bill, which also included tax cuts.

“If we would simply reform how DOT spends your tax dollars to be responsible and accountable, we’d have plenty of money – and this gas tax hike would be totally unnecessary,” McMaster said in a video veto message on his social media account.

The majority of current gas-tax dollars are spent on roads or highway maintenance workers.

The state’s current 16.75-cent-a-gallon gas tax raises about $600 million a year, according to the Department of Transportation.

About a third of that money – $167 million – is sent to other entities, including county road committees for local roads and the State Infrastructure Bank for new or expanded roads. Only about $45 million of that is spent on non-road expenses, including money that goes to the state Natural Resources and Agriculture departments.

Cassie Cope: 803-771-8657, @cassielcope

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