South Carolina state senators approved a road funding deal Monday after a three-hour filibuster by opponents of raising the state’s gas tax an eventual 12 cents per-gallon.
The deal initially reached by a conference committee of House and Senate negotiators last week was approved in a 32-12 vote Monday. The vote easily clears the required two-thirds threshold to overcome a threatened veto from Gov. Henry McMaster. House members will likely take up the bill on Tuesday or Wednesday.
“There are things in this conference report that some of you will like, there are things in this conference report that some of you will not like,” State Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Kershaw, said before the vote. “There were things that I wanted to see us get through that… we weren’t successful. But, all in all, you should be satisfied with the work.”
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.
While supporters portrayed the proposal as the best method to cut into a massive backlog in needed road repairs or upgrades, opponents claimed its language sets the state for the money to be rerouted for new roads in the future.
State Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, spent hours speaking against the measure. He pointed to language in the compromise version of the bill which would define any sales tax revenue from car sales as “maintenance fees.” Davis claimed the reason such a step would be taken is to get around state bans on using tax revenue towards borrowing for expensive new construction.
“Not only are we doing nothing to rectify… (the current) focus on financing for new projects, we’re further enabling that.” Davis said.”
Senators listened to Davis for several hours on Monday before President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, finally called for debate to end around 8 p.m. The motion to end the filibuster passed by a simple majority of 24-20.
Gov. McMaster vowed again Monday to veto the measure, saying it would increase costs on doing business in South Carolina.