By Matthew Clark
Published Feb. 26, 2016
Members of the S.C. Senate continued to block a House-approved measure to add money to fix state roads. It continued this week following Senate adjournment with Spartanburg state Sen. Lee Bright continuing the filibuster for Beaufort Republican state Sen. Tom Davis, who started the filibuster.
But, S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley did not hold back when she was asked about the current state of the bill and the need for permanent funding for road maintenance. She discussed the funding during the S.C. Automotive Council’s annual Auto Summit in Greenville.
Haley said that a primary reason for the Senate filibuster is a provision in the bill that reforms the S.C. Department of Transportation. That provision would make the department a cabinet-level post, doing away with the current process of lawmakers appointing district leadership, creating what she called a “political fight” for road improvements. That provision was taken out of the bill by the Senate Finance Committee.
Another issue in the Senate is the gas tax provision of the bill. The bill would raise the state’s motor fuels tax by $0.12 over the next five years while cutting other taxes by two percentage points, a point Haley told lawmakers would force a veto if a tax increase was not accompanied by a subsequent decrease in other taxes.
Haley took a direct shot at Senate President Hugh Leatherman when talking about the DOT reform component of the funding package. She started by telling the crowd that if they drove around Florence they would see “some of the best roads in the state.” The shot is because Leatherman is from Florence and is the Senate Finance Committee chairman.
“Where is the economic development?” Haley said. “It is in the Lowcountry, the Upstate and the Midlands, but we have the best roads in Florence because that is where the Senate president lives.
“We have to get our priorities straight.”
Leatherman was unavailable for comment.
The S.C. Chamber of Commerce has also jumped into the fray, calling on the Senate to end its filibuster and take action on the roads bill as soon as possible. Ted Pitts, president of the state chamber, said there needs to be a plan to both fund road maintenance and reform DOT.
“Senators who continue this inaction are essentially telling voters they would rather waste hard earned tax dollars on paying for pothole claims and car damage than funding a measure to fix our roads,” Pitts said in a statement. “Reform at the DOT is necessary and should be included in this bill. There is no reason why bringing accountability to the DOT cannot be part of dedicating funds for much needed infrastructure improvements.”
Haley continued her offensive in front of hundreds of auto manufacturers and supply chain representatives when she said that she knew something would be done regarding roads this year.
“Roads will get fixed … because it is an election year,” Haley said.
Reach Matthew Clark at 864-235-5677, ext. 107, or @matthewclark76 on Twitter.