State senators returned to session Tuesday and again debated a roads funding bill. But, unlike the past three weeks, this time it was Democrats speaking against the proposal instead of more conservative Republicans.
State Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Kershaw, said that the Republican deal announced last week does not give enough money to roads and only funds them for one year. “The underlying proposal pretty much guarantees that our roads aren’t going to get fixed,” he said on the Senate floor. “So just be honest about it. I think the people of South Carolina deserve honesty. Three years from now, four years from now, five years from now the roads will pretty much be in the condition they are now.”
Under the deal reached between Senate GOP leaders and the conservatives who had been filibustering the bill, $400 million more each year would be dedicated to roads. The money would come directly from the state’s General Fund revenue (in the past, state roads funding has been mostly through the gas tax) instead of an increase in the state’s 17 cents per-gallon gas tax or vehicle fees.
Sheheen said all that the plan does is take money away from other areas that need it as well. “You’re making the choice to take this from money that otherwise would fully fund the Local Government Fund, fund your cities and counties and keep property taxes lower,” he said.
Most Republicans, however, said they would not vote to raise the gas tax in a year that South Carolina’s budget had $1 billion in newly available funds.
Sheheen offered up amendments to the bill, including one that would reform the eight-member Department of Transportation commission, which had been a priority for some of the Senate’s more conservative senators. However, all of Sheheen’s amendments were voted down in the Republican-controlled chamber, as GOP senators were committed to keeping their agreement intact.