South Carolina senators will return to Columbia a day earlier than usual Monday, as they reach the final week of the regular session.
Atop the Senate agenda will be a road funding compromise reached by a joint legislative conference committee on Friday. The proposal includes a proposed 12 cents per-gallon gas tax increase and tax credits
Now the issue will be if lawmakers have enough support to override a threatened veto from Gov. Henry McMaster, who has said he will not support a tax increase. That would require two-thirds votes in the House and Senate.
Both sides agreed to the 12 cent increase the Senate wanted, instead of the 10 cents proposal which passed the House earlier this year. However, senators agreed to drop their hopes of eventually indexing the tax each year to increase with future inflation.
“It would be two cents a year for six years with no inflation factor,” State Sen. Paul Campbell, R-Berkeley, said.
South Carolina’s tax is currently at 17 cents per-gallon. Under the proposal, it would rise to 29 cents per-gallon by 2023.
Members of the conference committee met in public for roughly two hours on Friday morning, before adjourning for closed-door meetings to hammer out the final compromise in the afternoon. By evening, the four Republicans and two Democrats had returned to the meeting room with a deal.
Senate leaders praised the deal. “Fixing our roads won’t get any cheaper the longer we wait,” President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, said in a statement after the compromise was announced. “That’s why it’s vital that we put these resources in place to keep our state moving, keep our economy growing and make sure we’re creating jobs for our people.”
Among the areas agreed on: increasing the state’s current sales tax cap from $300 to $500, creating a $250 fee for new residents seeking to register their vehicles in South Carolina, and no increase in license fees. Senators had wanted a larger increase than the House in each case. Members also agreed to tax rebates which were used to sway enough Senate Republicans to support the measure.
State Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Columbia, said he feels that the Senate’s proposal for how South Carolina drivers would get their rebate of the plan is too involved. “Was there any thought in the Senate to a better way to give back a rebate on what people were spending for gas tax increases?” he said Friday.
He said the South Carolina Department of Revenue (DOR) would be overwhelmed in issuing a gas tax rebate to consumers. “It’s going to be so complicated that DOR says they may have to hire an entire division to deal with going through receipts,” said Rutherford.