A review of what’s making news in South Carolina state government.
House Republicans have introduced a proposal to increase South Carolina’s gas tax. The plan filed by Majority Leader Gary Simrill, R-Rock Hill, on Wednesday would raise the state’s 17 cents-per-gallon tax by 2 cents each year for five years (to 27 cents-per-gallon by 2022). The plan would also increase other fees in the hope of raising roughly $600 million in new money per year when fully phased-in.
Simrill told South Carolina Radio Network the state has not increased its per-gallon tax to adjust for inflation since 1987. “In 30 years, we still the exact same gas tax. It’s time for us to make sure South Carolina has safe roadways and roadways that are worthy of travel.”
He said South Carolina’s lack of investment in highways has caused road construction companies to focus more on North Carolina and Georgia and may be a factor in the Palmetto State having the highest fatality rate per miles traveled.
The plan would raise the current sales tax maximum on vehicle sales from $300 to $500 and would require those moving to South Carolina and registering their vehicle here to pay a $250 fee. There would be additional fees for out-of-state truck companies operating in the state and for hybrid and electric car owners who purchase less gas.
Simrill’s proposal will likely face a fight from some conservatives — especially in the Senate. State Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, filibustered a similar gas tax increase last year. He said at the time that would not support increased funding for the Department of Transportation unless the agency was placed more under the governor’s control. He repeated that vow earlier this month, telling reporters a 2016 reform package that allowed the governor to pick the Transportation Commission only with the consent of legislative delegations did not go far enough.
— South Carolina’s highest court has ruled Henry McMaster would not be able to choose his replacement lieutenant governor, should he ascend to the state’s Governor’s Office this year. The state Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that a constitutional amendment giving the governor power to choose his running mate won’t take effect until the 2018 election. That means the state constitution still calls on the Senate President Pro Tempore to fill a vacancy in the Lt. Gov.’s Office.
The move likely clears the way for State Sen. Kevin Bryant, R-Anderson, to become South Carolina’s next lieutenant governor if Gov. Nikki Haley resigns to become United Nations ambassador.
— McMaster is paying off his ethics penalties shortly before he becomes South Carolina’s 117th governor. The Charleston Post & Courier reports McMaster has paid a $5,100 fine and is working to refund $69,200 in excess campaign contributions from his 2010 governor bid. The State Ethics Commission determined the punishment last year after ruling that McMaster improperly raised money to pay off campaign debt following his unsuccessful 2010 campaign.
— The executive director of South Carolina’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) told a state Senate panel Wednesday that if the state does not comply with the federal Real ID Act, it could be “problematic.” Kevin Shwedo told senators that things are okay for now thanks to a federal extension until June 6, but that could soon change. The 2005 Real ID Act was meant to streamline state driver’s license requirements and create secure, modern identification consistent across the country. But South Carolina lawmakers are concerned the law requires too much personal information and sets up national ID cards rather than state ones.
— A proposal that would require moped drivers register with the state Department of Motor Vehicles and wear reflective vests at night is headed to the Senate floor. The State newspaper reports the proposal that cleared the Senate Transportation Committee mirrors legislation that passed both the House and Senate last year, but was vetoed by Gov. Nikki Haley. Senators hope likely incoming Gov. Henry McMaster will support the bill. Meanwhile, a House version of the bill, which differs in that it also requires moped drivers to carry liability insurance, is headed back to the drawing board for tweaks.
— Suspended State Rep. Chris Corley, R-Graniteville, spent the night in jail again after bond was set on an upgraded charge Wednesday. Another bond hearing was scheduled Thursday morning. A judge set $50,000 bond for Corley on domestic violence of a high and aggravated nature. The Republican was suspended from the House earlier this month after his indictment. The charge is more severe than Corley’s initial arrest in December on accusations of punching his wife and pointing a handgun at her. Corley has pleaded not guilty. If convicted, he could face up to 25 years in prison.
— The head of South Carolina’s prison agency is asking the state for another $1,500 salary increase for corrections officers. Department of Corrections Director Bryan Stirling told a House budget panel an identical increase approved by the General Assembly last year took him a step toward increasing retention but that more needs to be done. The Charleston Post & Courier reports SCDC officers had not gotten a pay raise for at least 15 years prior to hat. Starting pay is now $26,375 a year.