South Carolina House Democrats say they are willing to work with governor Nikki Haley on road funding — but only if she comes up with a plan that would meet the state’s highway needs.
House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, D-Columbia, said Tuesday that Democrats are supporting an “all-of-the-above” approach to road funding.
“All of the above means if the governor comes out with something we’ve never heard of, never thought of, but it meets our funding needs, we’ll be for it. If the governor comes out and says she wants to raise gas taxes to pay for it, we’ll be for it,” he said as House Democrats unveiled their agenda Tuesday. “We are all of the above. We simply want her to come out with a plan.”
The Department of Transportation has said South Carolina would need to spend an additional $1.5 billion more per year for two decades just to get its roads to “good” condition. That would require lawmakers to essentially double the amount set aside in a typical year.
Haley had said last summer that her administration would release a road funding plan for the 2015 legislative session. Rutherford said he wants to see such a plan outlined in Haley’s State of the State speech Wednesday night. The governor said last week she will reveal the plan later this month, but did not say if it would be part of her annual speech to legislators.
Haley’s budget proposal does include more than $61 million in car sales tax revenue that the governor wants to direct specifically towards the Department of Transportation. The money currently goes directly into the state’s overall general fund. However, the agency’s overall construction budget would decrease by $58 million due to a decline in federal funds. That leaves SCDOT well short of what it claims to need for simply maintaining South Carolina’s road network.
Otherwise, the governor’s only public comments on an overall road funding plan to this point have been to say that she would veto an increase in the state’s 16-cents per-gallon gas tax. House Republicans are currently crafting a proposal that tries to raise additional funds without raising the state’s 16-cents per gallon gas tax.
“Nobody wants to come up with a plan that the governor’s already going to veto,” Rutherford said. “She’s put us in a position where we now needs two-thirds of the vote (enough for a veto override) to come up with any plan she disagrees with. We’re ready and willing to get behind any plan she comes up with. Stop being a detractor.”
House Democrats unveiled other their other priorities on Tuesday. The list included more funding for education, equal pay for female state employees, a living wage for South Carolinians, ethics reform, and changing how House and Senate districts are redrawn every 10 years so it’s handled by an independent panel rather than politicians.
Democrats also called on the governor to find an alternative means to expand Medicaid. State Rep. Justin Bamberg, D-Bamberg, noted that eight other states who rejected Medicaid expansion initially have either gotten a waiver or are seeking a means to grow the program outside of Affordable Care Act’s requirements.