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Finding funding fix for roads tops S.C. Chamber agenda

Chuck Crumbo
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Coming up with a long-term funding program to fix the state’s deteriorating roads and bridges tops the S.C. Chamber of Commerce’s legislative agenda for the 122nd General Assembly.

While roads along with workforce development and streamlining the process to obtain business licenses match the chamber’s to-do list for previous sessions, there’s a sense that something might get done this year on at least transportation infrastructure.

S.C. Chamber chief Ted Pitts said he thinks this is the year the Legislature will try to come up with a funding plan to fix the state’s roads and bridges. (Photo/Chuck Crumbo)“We feel this is the year the General Assembly needs to finish the jobs on roads,” said Ted Pitts, president and CEO of the chamber.

Some members of the General Assembly agree, saying they expect Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster to be more of a dealmaker than Gov. Nikki Haley, who plans to resign if confirmed as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

While Haley recognized the roads and bridges needed fixing, she also threatened to veto any gas tax increase that did not come with a subsequent cut in income taxes.

The state is facing a $42 billion shortfall in road funding until 2040, according to an estimate from the S.C. Department of Transportation.

 “I think Henry McMaster, as well as Gov. Haley, as well as the leaders in the Legislature understand that something has got to be done,” Pitts said.

The chamber’s plan to fix the roads includes removing the sales tax exemption on motor fuel, raising the sales tax exemption cap on vehicles, and dedicating the funds directly to infrastructure, Pitts said.

On Wednesday, the House introduced a bill aimed at creating a long-term and sustainable revenue stream by increasing motor fuel user fees by 10 cents a gallon. The tax would be increased 2 cents per year over five years and would ultimately add about $600 million annually.

By increasing the state fuel tax, which is the second-lowest in the nation at 16.75 cents per gallon, some of the costs of fixing roads and bridges would be shifted to out-of-state drivers and truckers who stop and buy fuel in South Carolina. Officials estimate that out-of-state drivers account for about one-third of miles traveled on S.C. roads annually.

The bill also would increase the sales tax cap on car sales at $500 per vehicle, up from $300; charge a $60 fee for hybrid vehicles and a $120 fee for electric vehicles; and require newcomers to South Carolina to pay a $250 fee to register their cars.

“South Carolinians have demanded state government fix our dangerous roads,” House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Hartsville, said in a statement. “Not only is this issue directly tied to the safety of our citizens, it also poses the greatest threat to job creation and economic growth in South Carolina.”

Pitts said in a news release issued this morning that the chamber endorses the House bill.

“This is the type of comprehensive infrastructure plan that South Carolina’s residents, workers and businesses need our policymakers to implement,” Pitts said in a statement. “This funding proposal diversifies the sources of revenue, provides a long-term sustainable solution, and adequately captures out-of-state trucks and motorists who use our roads. It does all this in a responsible, phased-in approach.”

Turning to other items on the chamber’s agenda, Pitts said the state’s small business community needs a standardized business licensing process that makes it easier to do to work in different towns and counties.

The chamber suggests that the state and local governments adopt one form with one expiration date, Pitts said. To apply for a business license, Pitts said the business owner could file online through the Secretary of State's office.

To meet the business’ needs for a skilled workforce, the chamber proposes the state:

  • Increase participation in apprenticeship programs.
  • Expand career and technology education.
  • Adopt a 0% state income tax rate for military retirement benefits.
  • Support ex-offender workforce integration programs.
  • Provide tuition support for non-credit-bearing state-licensed or industry-recognized credentials for critical needs jobs.
  • Re-establishes the Education and Economic Development Coordinating Council.

“Our state has become the ‘it’ state for jobs, and we need to develop the skilled workforce to fill them,” Pitts said in a statement. “We need to finish the job for our state's businesses and citizens who need safe roads and bridges to travel and move products. Finally, our current business licensing system is one of the most business-unfriendly policies that our small businesses have to deal with."

Reach Chuck Crumbo at 803-726-7542.

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