Gov. Nikki Haley said Wednesday the S.C. House has killed a proposal to change the structure of the state Transportation Department, giving her more control over the state’s roads agency.
But House members said the road-repair ball now is back in the Senate’s court. Senators either can agree with the House’s roads proposal or let a House-Senate panel work out the differences between the two proposals, they added.
The House voted 113-6 to send the roads issue back to the Senate.
The House’s latest proposal includes requiring both the House and Senate — not just the Senate — approve the governor’s nominees to the commission that oversees the Transportation Department. That caveat amounts to “essentially killing any possibility for a good roads bill,” Haley said in a Facebook post Wednesday.
But Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, said House members could not approve the Senate’s proposal, adding “it falls short of true reform.”
“The legislative process exists so that the General Assembly can work together to move South Carolina forward, not provide opportunities for political grandstanding,” Lucas said in a statement.
However, state Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley, said having the full General Assembly approve commissioners — instead of just the Senate — would reverse 240 years of precedent.
In a stop-gap move, senators Wednesday approved permanently extending the governor’s power to appoint the Transportation Department’s head, in case a bill to restructure the agency does not pass.
“Understanding that the House took actions today to kill any type of restructuring and roads bill, I decided we needed to move forward in preserving the position of secretary of transportation,” Grooms said.
House leaders pointed fingers at the Senate, saying it had failed.
State Rep. Gary Simrill, R-York, said the Senate should have adopted the House’s road-repair proposal, which included restructuring the roads agency and increasing the state’s gas tax by the equivalent of a 10 cents a gallon.
But a gas tax died in the Senate. Instead, senators proposed spending an additional $400 million a year on roads from the state’s $7.5 billion general fund budget.
The S.C. House has approved spending $415 million on road repairs this year in the budget that begins July 1.
House members also were critical of the Senate for passing a road-repair proposal before senators saw the results of a Legislative Audit Council report on the Transportation Department, requested by two dozen senators.
“Although a majority of the Senate requested this study, they passed their amendment days before it was available and could not rely on its findings as a basis for their reform measures,” Lucas said.