July 28, 2015

SC House sets aside half of surplus budget dollars for roadwork, sends to Senate

House Speaker Jay Lucas addresses the chamber before the start of Tuesday's debate (Image: SCETV)

House Speaker Jay Lucas addresses the chamber before the start of Tuesday’s debate (Image: SCETV)

The South Carolina House on Wednesday sent to their Senate counterparts a bill that would set aside roughly half of higher-than-expected revenue for counties to repair existing roads.

In a unanimous vote Tuesday, the House approved a “supplemental” budget dictating how to spend roughly $373 million in additional General Fund revenue. The funds were made available last month after the state’s Board of Economic Advisors predicted an improving economy would bring in additional revenue than originally expected this upcoming year.

Lawmakers are trying to pass the supplemental budget quickly, as the House and Senate have halted negotiations the full fiscal year 2016 budget until it passes. Senators are expected to push for a larger share dedicated to road repairs.

The House plan would provide county transportation councils with $150 million in total nonrecurring revenue to be used on maintenance of state-owned secondary roads. The language clarifies the money can only be used for roads (rather than sidewalks or public transit, for instance) that are not otherwise eligible for federal funding.

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South Carolina gas tax opponents ready for next year’s fight

A week after a road funding bill died for the year in the South Carolina General Assembly, a coalition of groups are restating their opposition to any increase in the state’s 17 cents per-gallon gas tax

A group of limited government and conservation advocacy groups gathered at the Statehouse Wednesday, urging lawmakers to reform the South Carolina Department of Transportation and the way it pays for transportation projects before raising more money to fix the state’s roads and bridges.

Americans For Prosperity (AFP) state director Dave Schwartz said the group believes too many politics exist at the state Department of Transportation and must be removed before any new money is spent on roads. “They have not been very good stewards with the money we’ve already sent them,” Schwartz said Wednesday during a press conference at the Statehouse.

Opponents of raising the gas tax said that reforms must address the State Infrastructure Bank, a board that provides loans and financial assistance to transportation projects that exceed $100 million. The seven-member board is made up of the Department of Transportation’s commission chairman and two members each appointed by the governor, House speaker and Senate president pro tempore.

“Before we put any more money in the system, the system has to change,” South Carolina Policy Council president Ashley Landess said. “Citizens have absolutely no control over the people who make decisions about road funding.”

The bill in question died for the year without a vote last week due to a filibuster by State Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort. While Davis actually spoke for hours on a separate budget measure immediately ahead of the roads bill, he repeatedly made it clear he was filibustering to prevent the gas tax increase from coming up for debate.




Debate extended for Uber bill, but deadline still looms

A group of Uber drivers rallied at the Statehouse earlier this week

A group of Uber drivers rallied at the Statehouse earlier this week

Uber will have to wait a few more weeks to learn about its future in South Carolina.

On the final day of regular session Thursday, the state House of Representatives voted 81-23 to reject the Senate’s version of a bill authorizing transportation network companies such as Uber. But the House did move to instead create a joint conference committee which will allow senators to continue debating the bill into the special session this month.

The state Public Service Commission issued a temporary license in January to the company that operates the wireless app — reversing a previous “cease-and-desist” order. The license allows Uber’s drivers to take passengers until the end of June. But the idea was for state lawmakers to pass a law in the meantime legalizing the company. That has not happened. Uber warns it may be forced to leave the state if the regulations aren’t in place by June 30, impacting hundreds of part-time drivers.

The Senate voted unanimously approved looser regulations than the House earlier this year. But State Rep. Bill Sandifer, R-Seneca, said on the House floor Thursday he believes Uber should have to follow similar regualations as tax companies.

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Road funding bill/gas tax increase will not pass this year

A neighborhood bridge in Columbia that is among those on SCDOT's list to eventually replace

A neighborhood bridge in Columbia that is among hundreds on SCDOT’s list to eventually replace

Opponents of raising the state’s gas tax were successfully able to run out the clock on a road-funding measure, as a critical deadline for the bill to pass this year expired without a vote on Wednesday.

However, lawmakers are planning to still provide a modest $150 million increase in total county road repair funds as part of next year’s budget. Those funds come from higher-than-expected tax and other revenues that came into state coffers this past year.

State Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, has spent the past few weeks effectively filibustering the bill by refusing to give up the floor whenever the item just ahead of it has come up on the Senate agenda.

Under Senate rules, the bill needs at least two more votes before the General Assembly’s regular session ends on Thursday. Since no more than one vote can be held per day, there is no way the bill could return to the House during the 2015 session. However, it will keep its spot on the Senate agenda when lawmakers return in January 2016.

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Contractors group makes last-minute push for funding for South Carolina roads

A group of contractors made a last-minute push for state legislators on a funding plan for roads and bridges Tuesday. The Associated General Contractors called on legislators to end debate on a bill that would raise the gas tax by 12 cents in exchange for an income tax offset. The group’s spokesman says the indecision is hurting the road construction industry.

Brian Turmail said South Carolina is similar to many other states in that it has neglected roads for too long. “Just like you have to always kind of work on your house, unfortunately as a home owner, at the same time you have to work on your road bridges,” Turmail said.

Turmail said 500 construction jobs have been lost in the Columbia region this past year, while South Carolina gained 6,000 construction jobs, a 7 percent increase, during the April to April period, according to the labor statistics agency.

While Columbia and Spartanburg reported losses in construction jobs, Greenville and Charleston reported positive numbers. South Carolina has lost 30 percent of its jobs in construction since the Great Recession, due in part to the failure of state and federal lawmakers to address transportation funding.