The Buzz

Senate passes gas-tax increase

Updated 11 p.m. The S.C. Senate passed a 12-cent-a-gallon gas-tax hike Wednesday night by a vote of 34-10, a veto-proof majority.

The Senate will give the proposal a perfunctory final vote on Thursday, sending the proposal back to the S.C. House.

“Addressing our roads and bridges has been our top priority all year,” said Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, R-Edgefield. “The bill is far from perfect but I’m please the Senate acted to provide long-term funding, provided reforms to the Department of Transportation to ensure more accountability and provided rebates to protect South Carolina’s taxpayers.”

The Senate passed the plan after sitting down state Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, who had filibustered a gas-tax increase the last two years. Davis, who opposes increasing the gas tax has advocated for the Transportation Department to be a cabinet agency.

The compromise includes tax cuts and rebates and changes the structure of the Department of Transportation commission

“It’s a viable plan for addressing our state’s long-term infrastructure needs,” said Sen. Thomas McElveen, D-Sumter.

Earlier story:

The S.C. Senate cleared the way to pass a 12-cent-a-gallon gas-tax hike to repair the state’s crumbling roads Wednesday evening after three years of on-and-off debate.

The hike — if it becomes law — would be the first increase in the state’s gas tax in 30 years.

The Senate adopted a compromise amendment shortly after 9 p.m. that offsets the gas-tax increase with tax cuts and rebates and changes the structure of the Department of Transportation commission. The Senate adopted that compromise in a veto-proof vote of 36-8.

Then Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, took the podium and began speaking on the proposal. Davis filibustered the gas-tax increase the past two years, advocating for the Transportation Department to be a Cabinet agency.

Senate President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, had said earlier Wednesday he planned for the Senate to pass the gas-tax proposal that day.

The House already has approved a 10-cent-a-gallon gas tax hike. South Carolina’s gas tax is currently 16.75 cents a gallon, the second lowest in the nation.

However, Gov. Henry McMaster, R-Richland, has said he will veto the gas-tax hike, saying lawmakers instead should borrow up to $1 billion for road repairs. It would take two-thirds of the S.C. House and Senate to override the governor’s veto.

The Senate’s plan would raise some driving fees and enact others, eventually raising $800 million a year to repair the state’s crumbling roads and bridges.

The S.C. Department of Transportation has estimated it needs an added $1 billion a year to repair the state’s roads to good condition.

The proposal, when passed, will go back to the House, which passed a plan to raise roughly $500 million a year by a 97-18 vote.

The House doubled down on its version of the road-repair bill Wednesday by amending the state budget to include its proposal.

The Senate plan has tax credits and rebates that senators added earlier this week. Those tax breaks include credits for paying the higher gas tax, college tuition and business property taxes.

The tax breaks were added to pacify some Senate Republicans who insisted any gas-tax hike be accompanied by tax cuts. Senators said Wednesday they do not expect those tax break to survive in the House.

The Senate’s tax credits could cost the state $655 million, according to initial estimates. Those cuts would be paid for with a combination of gas-tax money, state budget money and state savings.

However, the gas-tax rebates would require drivers to save gas receipts. As a result, few South Carolinians would try to collect the credit, senators predicted Wednesday.

“The fact of the matter is we know it’s a hoax,” Sen. Darrell Jackson, D-Richland, said of the tax rebates and cuts in the Senate plan.

In addition, changes to the Department of Transportation were approved by the Senate, another demand by some Senate Republicans.

Senators added changes to the structure of the Department of Transportation Commission late Wednesday.

The plan would give the governor the ability to more easily remove commissioners, so they would serve at-will of the governor, said Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley.

The proposal would also add a ninth at-large member to the Transportation Department commission.

Cassie Cope: 803-771-8657, @cassielcope

Added fees for roads

In addition to a 12-cent-a-gallon gas-tax increase, to be phased in over six years, S.C. drivers would face paying an added:

▪  $25 fee for a 10-year driver’s license

▪  $16 fee every two years to register a vehicle

▪  $60 in fees every two years if they own a hybrid vehicle

▪  $120 in fees every two years if they own an electric vehicle

▪  Up to $300 in added sales taxes if they buy a used car that costs between $6,000 and $12,000. Buyers who purchase vehicles that cost more than $12,000 also would pay an added $300. That tax hike is the result of increasing the cap on the sales tax on vehicle sales to $600 from $300.

▪  A one-time fee of up to $600, phased in, if a buyer purchases a vehicle out of state and, later, registers it in South Carolina

Related stories from The State in Columbia SC