Politics & Government

Gas-tax hike to become law after SC legislators override McMaster’s veto

A proposal to raise the S.C. gas tax will become law after the Legislature Wednesday overrode Gov. Henry McMaster’s veto.

The proposal, which takes effect July 1, will raise the state’s gas tax by two cents a year for six years, a total of 12 cents. The bill also will hike other driving fees to raise money to repair the state’s crumbling roads.

The state Senate overrode McMaster’s veto Wednesday afternoon — the final step needed — by a 32-12 vote, exceeding the two-thirds needed.

“Today’s bipartisan vote by the Senate to override the governor’s veto ensures that our state will have dedicated resources in place to maintain our roads,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence.

Earlier Wednesday, the S.C. House voted 95-18, to override McMaster’s veto after House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, and other House members lambasted the governor, a fellow Republican.

“He chose to listen, I believe, to campaign consultants, rather than the people,” Lucas said, referring to McMaster’s veto message.

The new governor is a good man, Lucas added. “I know he wants the best for South Carolina. I believe he will become a good governor — in time.”

However, McMaster has “chosen to place politics over policy” during the roads debate, Lucas said. “The governor has failed to offer one single, viable solution to the state’s infrastructure crisis.”

Freshman lawmaker 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 — typically, a low-turnout contest dominated by anti-tax voters — and worried about his political career.

The Governor’s Office weighed in on the criticism.

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

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

As governor, McMaster asked President Donald Trump for $5 billion to pay for road repairs and said 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, McMaster said a higher gas tax was not the solution, a claim that legislators mocked Wednesday.

“This was the Legislature stepping up where the governor and the past governor (Haley) refused to provide leadership,” said state Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Kershaw.

The plan that legislators agreed to earlier this week, after more than two years of debate, will raise about $630 million a year for road repairs. It also includes about $100 million in tax breaks.

Cassie Cope: 803-771-8657, @cassielcope

‘We now have a plan to fix our roads’

Legislators and road-repair groups applauded the final passage Wednesday of a proposal to increase the state gas tax to raise money to fix South Carolina’s crumbling roads.

‘Get down to ... business’

“We’re finally going to get down to the business of fixing our roads.”

– State Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley

‘We applaud ... their leadership’

“We applaud the General Assembly for their leadership and dedication to addressing the infrastructure crisis in South Carolina. SCDOT is committed to putting these tax dollars to work.”

— S.C. Department of Transportation secretary Christy Hall

‘Previous resources simply were not enough’

“South Carolina faces infrastructure obligations that cannot be ignored, and it’s clear that previous resources simply were not enough to ensure we were doing what we need to do for safety and economic development in the long-run,”

— Senate President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence

‘Our elected leaders put people over politics’

“Many would argue that the cost of doing nothing actually cost more than the cost of fixing (the roads). … It’s just refreshing to the business community to see our elected leaders put people over politics.”

— S.C. Chamber of Commerce chief executive Ted Pitts

‘Make our roads smoother and safer’

"The passage of this bill over the governor's veto will make our roads smoother and safer while providing tax relief to the working families and students who need it most. Enhancing South Carolina's transportation infrastructure will foster business growth throughout the state, creating good-paying jobs for our people.”

— S.C. Democratic Party chair Trav Robertson

‘After 30 years ... ’

“After 30 years of inaction, we now have a plan to fix our roads.”

Bill Ross, head of the S.C. Alliance to Fix Our Roads

‘Our roads will be highways’

“We have now answered the question as to whether or not our roads will be dieways or highways. ... We have resoundingly said: ‘Our roads will be highways.’ ”

— State Sen. Ronnie Saab, D-Williamsburg

‘We made the right choice’

“We made the right choice by reforming the South Carolina Department of Transportation, extending responsible tax relief to our citizens and providing a long-term dedicated funding stream for South Carolina roadways.”

— Rep. Gary Simrill, R-York, who sponsored the bill

‘You get what you pay for’

“You get what you pay for. We’ve been paying for cruddy roads, and it’s about time we paid for some good roads.”

— State Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Kershaw