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House gives approval to road funding bill

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Following months of debate and a last-minute back and forth between the S.C. House and S.C. Senate, both chambers advanced a bill to provided funding to help fix the state’s road and bridge infrastructure.

The bill is now headed to Gov. Nikki Haley’s office for approval.

House members approved the bill that uses $200 million in fees from motor vehicle sales taxes and state Department of Motor Vehicle fees to allow the state to borrow up to $2.2 billion over the next 10 years for road and bridge repair. State officials said the move will free up additional funds the S.C. Department of Transportation can use for bridge replacement and road paving, according to the Associated Press.

The bill also includes DOT reforms sought after by House members and Haley. Senators had balked at giving the governor the power to appoint members of the commission that oversees the DOT but gave their approval to that part of the bill on its second pass through the chamber in late May.

Ted Pitts, president of the S.C. Chamber of Commerce, issued a statement following the final passage, calling the move a measure “that moves our state forward.”

“S. 1258 is a big step in the right direction toward fixing our state’s roads and bridges by providing dedicated revenue streams, reforming DOT, improving the (State Transportation Infrastructure Bank) process and allocating resources to begin to bring South Carolina’s roads out of disrepair that has hindered commerce and jeopardized the safety of our citizens for too long,” Pitts said, in his statement.

Initial funding plans included hiking the state’s gas tax incrementally over the next three years to reach a cap of 28 cents per gallon. Senators blocked the plan after Haley threatened to veto any gas tax increase that did not come with a decrease in other taxes to offset. The state’s gas tax sits at 16 cents, one of the lowest in the nation, according to the American Petroleum Institute.

The biggest point of contention regarding the bill was the reforms of DOT. Haley had advocated for eliminating the DOT Commission and wanted to keep the secretary’s position a gubernatorial appointee. House and Senate members augmented the request by allowing the governor to appoint all eight members of the committee, however lawmakers, mainly legislative delegations, will have final approval of the members. The bill also gives the commission the authority to hire the DOT secretary.

“The additional funding adds much-needed capacity to expand roads and relieve congestion, which is vital to South Carolina’s industrial development,” said Bill Ross, executive director of Columbia-based advocacy group SC Alliance to Fix Our Roads, in a statement. “Also, incorporating the reform measures allows the Legislature to move forward on finding a long-term solution to our state’s critical transportation needs.”

Ross added that the bill “falls short on delivering adequate funding to our entire system.” House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Hartsville, agreed but said that the state now has a roads bill.

“Although this bill is not perfect, the House and Senate have worked together, made tough decisions and followed through with our promise to fix S.C. roads,” Lucas said, in a statement.

He also called on Haley to sign the bill once it is ratified and reaches her desk.

“For the sake of our citizens’ safety and our economy’s sustainability, I ask Gov. Haley to sign this bill into law as soon as it arrives on her desk,” Lucas said. “The people of South Carolina should not have to wait any longer for their dangerous roads and bridges to be repaired.”

Reach Matthew Clark at 864-235-5677, ext. 107, or @matthewclark76 on Twitter.

Reach Matthew Clark at 864-720-1222.

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