Members of the South Carolina House and Senate voted overwhelmingly against Gov. Henry McMaster’s veto of a roads funding measure Wednesday, allowing a proposed gas tax increase to become law.
McMaster had opposed H.3516 because it would raise the tax an eventual 12 cents per-gallon by 2023. But legislators said South Carolina is desperately in need of new funds to cover an enormous backlog in road repairs or upgrades. The 91-18 vote in the House and 32-12 in the Senate easily cleared the two-thirds margin needed to override the governor.
House Speaker Jay Lucas said he thinks McMaster is a good man, but accused him of playing politics with his veto. “He chose to listen, I believe, to campaign consultants rather than the great people of South Carolina,” Lucas said in a short speech on the House floor before Wednesday’s vote.
The measure would raise the state’s gas by two cents per gallon each year for the next six years, starting July 1. 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. It also creates new tax credits for South Carolina residents to claw back what they spent in new tax money.
Budget analysts estimate the proposal will raise an additional $630 million annually once it is fully phased in after 2023.
In a video statement posted to Twitter on Tuesday, McMaster claimed legislators could have found the 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.
But State Rep. Micah Caskey, R-West Columbia, criticized McMaster for simultaneously claiming the state had enough money while also proposing South Carolina borrow an additional billion for roadwork. “What we cannot have is a governor who says there’s enough money in the system… I’m just kidding, oh wait, ladies and gentlemen we need a billion dollars in a bond bill,” Caskey said.
One of the governor’s defenders was State Rep. Neal Collins, R-Easley, who said the roads plan is flawed and does not set aside nearly enough new funding on its own but still hurts taxpayers. “The sad thing about it is my successor is going to be dealing with roads,” he said. “And it was always my viewpoint on a major issue like this that we strive for the perfect.”
But House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford said the gas tax was a last resort after other funding ideas were exhausted. “We didn’t want to raise taxes,” he said. “We came up with other proposals… (such as) casinos and other things. But, if you’re not going to do that, then you’re left with this.”
Transportation Secretary Christy Hall released a statement immediately after the Senate vote, saying her agency is “committed to putting these tax dollars to work.”