Democrats in the South Carolina Senate want an $87 million budget surplus to be directed towards infrastructure.
State legislators had already planned on having higher-than-expected tax revenues this past fiscal year that ended June 30. In the final budget signed by Gov. Nikki Haley last month, lawmakers set aside roughly half of the projected $400 million in surplus money (totaling $216 million) to go towards county transportation funds. The Board of Economic Advisors revealed last week that the state had received the additional $87 million on top of that.
State Senator Nikki Setzler, D-Lexington, said the current surplus of $87 million would not be much, but would provide some benefit. “It’s a $1.4 billion annual problem and so this will only be a drop in the bucket, but at least it helps,” he told South Carolina Radio Network.
He said the roads in South Carolina are a major concern. “Rebuilding roads, repaving roads is the number one issue in this state. It’s what people want addressed. It affects every aspect of our life from our jobs to our transportation system.” Setzler is among the Senate Democrats who favor a proposal that increases the state’s gas tax and would raise various vehicle and license fees to raise additional money for roads.
Governor Nikki Haley outlined a proposal during her State of the State address that would gradually raise the gas tax by 10 cents up to 26 cents per gallon by 2019. But that would be offset by a 2 percent decrease in South Carolina’s income tax from 7 percent to 5 percent. House members passed their own bill in April that would raise more than $300 million for roads, offer an incentive for counties to take over some roads from the state and included some income tax relief.
But both plans remain stuck in the Senate. Republicans effectively allowed a filibuster among more conservative members to stall out debate on the Senate until the regular session ended in June. Those conservatives say they will not support a gas tax increase without structural reforms at the state Department of Transportation.
Setzler said investing in infrastructure will make South Carolina more attractive to families and businesses looking for a place to call home. “Everything that we do is impacted by the roads we travel on. Our economic development is tremendously impacted by that.” Setzler said.