A proposal that could eventually raise South Carolina’s gas tax by 10 cents per-gallon and increase various other vehicle fees cleared a House budget subcommittee unanimously on Tuesday.
The Infrastructure and Economic Development Reform Act tries to raise roughly $600 million each year for new roadwork each year by gradually raising the gas tax by 2 cents per year for five years until it reaches 26 cents per-gallon. It would also raise the biennial vehicle registration fee by $16, create a new $250 fee for residents who purchase their car out-of-state and register it in South Carolina, and raise the current sales tax cap on vehicle purchases from $300 to $500.
However, it’s still not clear if the bill has the support of Gov. Henry McMaster. McMaster has previously avoided publicly commenting on the legislation, but told House Republicans in a closed-door Tuesday meeting that a tax increase should only be a “last resort,” according to lawmakers present.
Hoping to assure the public that their tax increase is solely going to maintenance, upgrades and repairs, members of the House Ways and Means subcommittee on Tuesday voted to create a special trust fund for the new revenue. The Infrastructure Maintenance Trust Fund could only be used for preservation, repairs and improvements along existing roads. The new tax revenue could not go towards new road construction and could not be rerouted to non-maintenance programs.
“Until we take care of the roads that we have, we should not be planning new roads,” House Majority Leader Gary Simrill, R-Rock Hill.
But coastal lawmakers, nervous about constant population growth, believe South Carolina’s Department of Transportation (SCDOT) should be able to use the funds for new roads that could ease congestion. State Rep. Alan Clemmons, R-Myrtle Beach, said he agrees any funds should go entirely towards maintenance until SCDOT can get its system up to par in the future. However, once that happens, he wants the agency to have more “flexibility.”
“At that point in time, our DOT’s hands should be untied and they should be given the opportunity to consider new road infrastructure needs as they may exist around the state,” he told South Carolina Radio Network.
However, members of the subcommittee decided to hold off on any debate about the trust fund until the proposal reaches the full House Ways and Means Committee on Thursday.