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Now, it’s up to Senate to decide fate of roads bill

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A bill aimed at fixing South Carolina’s crumbling roads and bridges – a top priority of the state’s business leaders – won overwhelming support Wednesday in the S.C. House of Representatives and now heads to the Senate where similar measures have crashed into a filibuster.

“Fixing South Carolina’s dangerous roads and bridges should be the greatest priority for this legislative session. Refusing to compromise will not solve our roads problem, but simply places politics above responsible public policy,” House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, said in a statement. “A delayed resolution continues to threaten the safety of South Carolina drivers and increases costs for repair and resurfacing of decaying roads and bridges.”

Titled the “SC Infrastructure and Economic Development Reform Act,” the bill (H. 3516) received bipartisan support, clearing the House 97-18. The measure received a third reading today in the House and was sent to the Senate, where it was referred to the Finance Committee chaired by Senate President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman.

“As this bill makes its way to the Senate, it is my hope that the reform and funding components included in this legislation will be seriously considered and a long-term, sustainable solution is quickly agreed upon,” Lucas said.

Bill Ross, president of the SC Alliance to Fix Our Roads, noted that similar measures have passed the House only to die in the Senate. During the last two years, state Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, has successfully filibustered and blocked Senate votes on any road bills.

Additionally, former Gov. Nikki Haley’s threat to veto any legislation that did not include a significant cut in the state personal income tax rate, throttled previous roads bill.

Her successor, Gov. Henry McMaster, regards an increase in the gas tax to be a last resort.

 “We implore the Senate to take up this legislation and approve a solution to the state’s transportation infrastructure crisis this year,” Ross said. “South Carolina drivers cannot wait another year for a plan to fix our crumbling roads.”

Meanwhile, South Carolina Chamber of Commerce CEO Ted Pitts praised the House’s vote on an issue that the business community has championed for a decade.

“We commend the leadership of the 97 House members that supported this solution, now the Senate needs to get to work and finish the job on the roads,” Pitts said.

S.C. Transportation Secretary Christy Hall said the measure will help improve the efficiency and safety of South Carolina’s roads and bridges.

“SCDOT’s goal is to bring us closer to providing a highway system that’s in good condition and will accommodate our current demands and those that we will face in the future as South Carolina continues to grow,” Hall said in a statement.

Earlier this year, Hall reported to the General Assembly that the state’s highway system is in “crisis” after suffering from decades of deferred maintenance due to a lack of funding. Deferred maintenance has resulted in 54% of the state’s 42,000 miles of highways now rated in “poor condition.” The overall cost of repairing the poor roads has climbed to $8 billion.

Additionally, Hall said the state’s poor roads have contributed to a surge in fatalities. “South Carolina leads the entire nation in the number of highway deaths,” she said. “An increase in funding can lead to proper maintenance and the beginning of a targeted safety improvement program on rural highways where a majority of deaths occur,” Hall added.

Provisions in the bill include:

·         Creation of an Infrastructure Maintenance Trust Fund.

·         Reforming governance of the SCDOT Highway Commission to support regional representation with appointments made by the governor and approval by the General Assembly.

·         Increasing motor fuel user fee 10 cents per gallon over a 5-year period.

·        Hiking the biennial motor vehicle registration fee by $16.

·         Raising the auto sales tax cap to $500 per vehicle from $300.

·         Capitalizing on out-of-state registered vehicles.

·         Creating biennial registration fees for all hybrid and electric vehicles.

·         Creating a motor carrier road user fee for out-to-state truckers.

The state fuels tax is currently set at 16.75 cents per gallon, which is the second lowest rate in the United States and has not been raised in 30 years.

SCDOT Commission Chairman Woodrow Willard said that the agency has adopted several reform efforts recognized by House members. “We have complied with 75% of the recommendations (in a Legislative Audit Report) and the process continues to provide as much transparency and accountability of the taxpayers’ dollars.”

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