Gov. Nikki Haley is pressuring South Carolina House Republicans to agree with the state Senate on a roads funding plan, although House members insist the Senate version is unreliable in the long-term.
The Senate’s plan designates $400 million each year from the state’s overall General Fund budget, rather than a separate funding source like an increase in the gas tax or vehicle fees. But Haley, wary from proposed Department of Transportation reforms that have stalled in the past, is pushing the House to accept it anyway. Specifically, the Senate version would change the Transportation Commission, which approves all road projects in South Carolina, so all eight of its members would be nominated by the governor instead of just one (with the other seven currently chosen by legislators from each congressional district).
“Right now, it’s political horse trading that’s happening,” Haley said during a Wednesday press briefing. “And the dollars aren’t going where we need them to.”
Although they did include $415 million of new transportation funding in their proposed budget this week, House leaders do not like the Senate version. Budget writers in the lower chamber worry the mandatory $400 million only works during a strong year for tax collections. “The Senate’s version locks the (Department of Transportation) in at $400 million (each year),” State Rep. Gary Simrill, R-Rock Hill, told reporters. “We realize we have that money this year, but what I want to see is a long-term sustainable solution for roads.”
Haley acknowledged the House concerns, publicly promising during her press conference to help find an acceptable “direct funding stream” for roads in the long-term. But she also worried that some Senate Republicans may filibuster the bill if the House changes it again — quite possibly killing it for the year.
“If you want to add more to it, do that next year,” she said. “But don’t lose the biggest part of this bill that we have, which is the reform piece.
Simrill said the Senate’s mandatory spending level puts other state programs at risk should tax collections drop in the future. “What if we have a downturn in the economy?” he said. “Well, you may cut law enforcement. You may cut education. You would not be able to cut (road money).”