Gov. Henry McMaster followed through on his threat to veto a proposed gas tax increase, sending the proposed road funding deal back to the House and Senate just hours after it was sent to his desk Tuesday.
In a video statement posted to Twitter, McMaster claimed legislators could have found the $637 million in new money by other means. “If we would simply reform how (the state Department of Transportation) spends your tax dollars to be responsible and accountable, we’d have plenty of money and this gas tax would be totally unnecessary,” he said.
Today I vetoed the General Assembly’s gas tax bill, and I would like to tell you why. pic.twitter.com/pPOz0Cz4XC
— Henry McMaster (@henrymcmaster) May 9, 2017
Legislators are expected to override the veto. Both the House and Senate already passed the bill this week by the required two-thirds majority, including a 99-20 vote in the House earlier Tuesday.
House Majority Leader Gary Simrill, R-Rock Hill, disputed the state could have used existing funds to pay for repairs. Simrill said contractors have been moving out of the state for steadier work.
“You don’t bring them back by making a promise and not delivering,” he said before the vote. “Which is what we have been doing by moving general fund revenue in pieces with (borrowing) that would then go away. They need to know it’s sustainable and reliable.”
The measure would raise the state’s gas by two cents per gallon each year for the next six years. It would also lift the current sales tax cap from $300 to $500 and create a new biannual fee for owners of hybrid or electric vehicles and a $250 fee for out-of-state residents who seek to register their vehicle in the state for the first time. Budgetwriters estimate it will raise an additional $637 million per-year once it is fully phased in after 2023. It also creates new tax credits for South Carolina residents to claw back what they spent in new tax money.
McMaster claims millions for roadwork money could have been easily set aside by reducing the nearly “1 in 4” current gas tax dollars that are not spent on SCDOT’s road construction projects. Some of that total includes money for agencies such as the Department of Agriculture or to buy boats for the Department of Natural Resources. However, roughly half of that total includes money set aside to county governments for local projects.
House Speaker Jay Lucas had issued a late request for McMaster to change his mind. “Our members knew the General Assembly could send a long-term, sustainable solution to the Governor if legislators put good public policy over petty politics,” he said in a statement not after the vote. “Although this conference report is not perfect, I could not be more proud of our members for responding to their constituents’ demands.”