The Buzz

New fees for hybrid, electric drivers locked into S.C. roads plan

File photograph

State lawmakers fine-tuning a road-repair bill agree that S.C. drivers of hybrid and electric vehicles should pay new fees for their use of the roads.

A panel of S.C. House and Senate members made that decision Monday when they met to iron out differences between the two chambers’ approved road-repair plans.

The fees would affect thousands of S.C. drivers.

South Carolina’s roughly 44,000 hybrid vehicle owners would pay a $60 fee every two years if the proposal becomes law. The state’s 460 electric-vehicle owners would pay a $120 fee every two years.

“Everyone that uses the road needs to pay,” said S.C. House Majority leader Gary Simrill, R-York.

Road repairs are funded in part by the gas tax, which is dependent on gasoline sales, Simrill said, adding hybrid and electric vehicles are more fuel efficient and do not pay as much in gas taxes.

State senators and House members are meeting to work out a compromise between the two versions of a bill. The S.C. House version of the plan would raise the state’s gas tax by 10 cents a gallon. The Senate plan would increase the tax by 12 cents, then tie increases to inflation.

Both chambers passed their versions of the bill with veto-proof majorities.

If lawmakers can agree on a plan that also garners at least two-thirds support of both the state House and Senate, then that plan could withstand a veto by Gov. Henry McMaster. The Richland Republican has said he opposes raising the state’s 16.75-cents-a-gallon gas tax, the second lowest in the nation.

The two chambers also disagree on how much to raise driving fees, seen as another way to raise money for roads. For example, the Senate approved increasing the state’s driver’s license fee to $40 every eight years.

“We’re going to need to have a more diverse revenue stream,” said state Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Kershaw.

Currently, a 10-year driver’s license fee is $25, but compliance with federal Real ID will require drivers to renew at least every eight years.

The House did not approve increasing the driver’s license fees.

The biggest obstacle to passing a roads bill likely will be tax cuts and rebates included in the S.C. Senate plan. Those tax cuts were included so the plan could win favor with tax-averse GOP senators.

The compromise panel is set to meet again Friday.

Cassie Cope: 803-771-8657, @cassielcope