The Buzz

Senate to start debating road repair plan Wednesday

After five weeks of letting a road-repair bill sit atop its calendar, S.C. senators are set to begin debating Wednesday how to repair the state’s crumbling roads.

Senate President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, said he is happy the Senate is getting to the road-funding debate. Leatherman added he expects amendments to the proposal, signaling the debate will take time.

“The Senate is ready to hunker down and start dredging through the amendments in hopes of shaping a compromise,” said state Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Richland, who with Sen. Ray Cleary, R-Georgetown, introduced a proposal last week to amend a House-passed roads bill.

Cleary and Lourie’s amendment addresses four parts of the House bill, which passed that chamber last year by a 87-20 vote. That proposal had enough support to override a threatened veto by Republican Gov. Nikki Haley.

How do the House and Senate proposals compare?

A look:

Tax hikes

Senate amendment — Increases the state’s gas tax by 12 cents a gallon, hikes the maximum state sales tax on vehicles to $600 from $300, increases the fee to get a drivers license to $50 every 10 years, and imposes every-two-year fees of $120 on alternative-fuel vehicles and $60 on hybrid vehicles. The tax hikes, phased in over three years, are projected to raise at least $665 million a year for road repairs.

House plan — Increase the state’s gas tax by the equivalent of 10 cents a gallon and increase the maximum state sales tax on vehicles to $500. The proposal is projected to raise $427 million a year.

Tax cuts

Senate amendment — $398 million in tax cuts, including adjusting the state’s income-tax brackets and reducing the property tax paid by manufacturers. A taxpayer with taxable income of between $40,000 and $50,000 a year would save $191 a year.

House plan — The plan would cut the average S.C. taxpayer’s income taxes by $48 a year by adjusting the state’s income-tax brackets. When phased in, after two years, that tax cut would reduce the state’s general fund revenues by roughly $50 million a year, according to 2015 estimates.

Department of Transportation Commission

Senate amendment — The eight-member commission that oversees the Transportation Department would be expanded to 10 members. The state’s 10 Councils of Government, regional planning districts, would nominate three candidates for each commission seat and the governor would choose one. That commission now is legislatively controlled. Some Republicans oppose the proposal, saying the governor should have more control over the roads agency.

House plan — The governor would appoint the Transportation Department’s eight commissioners with legislative approval. One would come from each of the state’s seven congressional districts; one would be a statewide appointment. The commission then would appoint a secretary to run the agency with the Senate’s approval.

S.C. Transportation Infrastructure Bank

Senate amendment — The proposal would send $237 million, raised from the state sales taxes on vehicle sales, to the Infrastructure Bank to expand and improve interstates. It also would add two more members — to be appointed by the Senate majority and minority leaders — to the board that oversees the Infrastructure Bank. Senate critics want the bank abolished, saying it is an example of pork-barrel politics at its worst.

House plan — The Infrastructure Bank board would be expanded to 13 members, including the seven Transportation Department commissioners from congressional districts. Three appointments would be made by the speaker of the House speaker and three by the Senate president pro tempore. The plan also would reduce the threshold for eligible projects that the bank can consider to $25 million from $100 million.

Cassie Cope: 803-771-8657, @cassielcope

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