Republican leaders in the South Carolina House have agreed they will no longer insist on a gas tax increase in order to pass a roads funding bill.
House Speaker Jay Lucas sent a letter to the Governor’s Office on Thursday indicating the House will drop its plan to apply a new excise tax on wholesale gas purchases. Instead, they will agree with the Senate on finding $400 million in higher-than-expected money from the General Fund budget this year.
State Rep. Gary Simrill, R-Rock Hill, said the House had already set aside $287 million for roads in a proposed budget to be taken up next week. He said lawmakers will nix an additional $130 million in tax relief and instead set that money towards roadwork. Gov. Nikki Haley had previously indicated she would veto any bill that included a gas tax increase without an offset in other taxes. But Simrill said the governor had told lawmakers she would drop her calls for tax cuts if they simply increased road spending without a tax increase.
The House likely will not take up road funding until after they finish voting on their overall budget plan next week.
However, Lucas made it clear House leaders will still seek a long-term funding solution in the future. “Thank you for expressing a concern a vast majority of our caucus shares by recognizing that the Senate bill does not contain a sustainable funding solution,” he states in the letter to Haley. He had previously called the Senate plan “irresponsible” last week, but appears to have shifted his position after admitting the original House plan did not have the votes to pass the other chamber.
Simrill said the House would also look to tweak some of the administrative reforms the Senate made. But the issue moving forward will still be a “sustainable” long-term plan to pay for road maintenance and construction, he added. “We’re not promising the citizens of South Carolina something we can deliver this year, but may not be able to deliver next year.”
Democratic legislators have criticized the Senate plan as not providing nearly enough money to meet the enormous costs to repair the state’s aging infrastructure.