After a late night, state senators Tuesday approved an altered version of legislation that would revamp the leadership of South Carolina’s Department of Transportation.
Senators voted 31-10 in favor of a slightly different proposal than what passed the House last month. House members and Gov. Nikki Haley say they will not support a Senate plan to borrow $2 billion over the next decade for roadwork unless senators also agree to weaken their control over the state Transportation Commission that approves all construction projects.
“The bill we have approved will generate billions of dollars toward that objective by funding resurfacing projects throughout our state without any increases in the gas tax or fees,” Senate President Pro Tem Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, said in a statement after the vote. “The responsibility is now with the House to make absolutely sure that a roads bill is approved.”
The proposal passed Tuesday would allow the governor to appoint the eight-member commission. She can only appoint one member now, with the remaining seven selected by legislators from each of the state’s congressional districts. However, the governor’s picks would instead have to be approved by his or her respective legislative delegation, then a joint screening committee, then the full Senate. Those commissioners would have the power to hire the Transportation Secretary.
It’s unclear if the House will agree to the idea.
The vote came after House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Hartsville, unloaded on the Senate Tuesday for delaying debate. In a fiery speech on the House floor, Lucas insisted the House had already compromised with the Senate several times on road legislation, agreeing to drop their proposed gas sales tax increase and allowing senators to weigh in on the governor’s picks.
“There’s no excuse for the Senate to waste any more time weighing fruitless policy proposals,” the Speaker told House lawmakers. “The South Carolina Senate must decide now which path they want to take.”
But Lucas also targeted Gov. Haley, who is spending much of the session’s final week campaigning for Republicans who are challenging sitting GOP state senators. Lucas criticized the governor for not getting involved in pushing for the bill’s passage.
“It is obvious she believes her time is better spent endorsing opponents of sitting (lawmakers) rather than demand senators… do their job and pass a roads bill,” Lucas said.
Haley’s spokeswoman fired back that the governor’s positions on SCDOT reform were no secret. “Sometimes the best way to get something done in Columbia is to elect new people who actually want to serve the public rather than themselves,” spokesperson Chaney Adams told media outlets in a statement.
Senators had been debating a separate bill Tuesday that would deal with debt at South Carolina State University when Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, announced Republicans would not back the bill unless the Senate also agreed to take up roads.