One of the Statehouse’s most powerful Democrats says he will propose new legislation next year that would allow casinos in South Carolina.
House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, D-Columbia, argues the fees and tax revenues generated by “well-regulated, upscale” casinos could help provide millions for road repairs. Casinos are currently banned in South Carolina, although two Little River-based cruise boats currently take gamblers to international waters.
“I’m just tired of pretending that the problem with our roads is going to go away, and so doing nothing about it,” Rutherford told South Carolina Radio Network. “I talk to Republicans all the time who tell me that they want to look at what we can do to fix our roads, but the governor has tied one hand behind their back by taking a gas tax… off the table. So what are they to do?”
The announcement came one day after Gov. Nikki Haley said that her administration plans to come up with a road funding measure next year. Haley would not give any further details other than to say her proposal would not increase taxes.
Haley has consistently opposed expanded gambling in South Carolina (she refused to support a proposed Hardeeville casino in 2012).
“Legalizing gambling doesn’t solve any problems – it creates them and Governor Haley believes South Carolina simply deserves better ideas than that,” Haley’s spokesman Doug Mayer said in an email. “The governor, like the majority of South Carolinians, doesn’t support casino gambling and will never take any action that allows it to happen here.”
Road construction and repair has gotten more attention among South Carolina politicians in the past two years. The focus comes as the South Carolina Department of Transportation says it needs an extra $29.3 billion over the next 20 years (to the tune of $1.47 billion more each year) just to keep the state’s roads in “good” condition. Lawmakers tried to help, devoting more than $700 million of one-time funds to repair state roads and bridges in 2013. But both Republicans and Democrats agree that a permanent source of consistent funding is needed. However, separate attempts to raise South Carolina’s gas tax or divert motor vehicle fees to increase road funding were both blocked this past session.
Rutherford insisted the governor did not have a realistic plan. “Without new revenue coming in, how do you fix a $29 billion problem? You can’t.”
Rutherford gave only a few specifics on how the casinos would be regulated, but any legalized gambling would almost certainly require a constitutional amendment. That means that, even if Statehouse Republicans support the proposal (a long shot at this point), South Carolina voters would likely end up deciding the matter.
Matt Long contributed to this report