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McMaster: Tax increase not the answer for roads

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S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster said he does not believe raising the state’s gas tax is the way South Carolina should improve its road infrastructure.

Speaking to reporters following the Upstate SC Alliance annual meeting, McMaster said roads were a priority, but funding the improvement was the crux of the issue.

“Everyone agrees we need to be sure that our roads are in great condition,” McMaster said. “They have fallen from that now. Years ago roads in South Carolina were regarded as some of the best roads in the country.”

But, he said raising taxes was not the way to fund infrastructure improvements. He added the state will have over $630 million come in from the gas tax in the next fiscal year, but not all of it will go to road improvements. He said between the revenues expected with the gas tax as it stands currently, coupled with a general fund surplus expected and federal funding there was “a lot of money in the state.”

On Wednesday, a House plan that raises the state’s gas tax by 12 cents over the next six years failed to gain the necessary votes by the S.C. Senate to move the bill to the chamber’s “special order,” or priority calendar position, thus keeping the measure contested.

The House plan would generate an estimated $885 million annually from the gas tax and other fees. Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, said some Republicans were concerned over the fact the bill contained no tax reductions to offset the increase in the gas tax and no reforms to the state transportation structure. The latter was stripped out of the House version by the Senate Finance Committee.

“We have serious concerns about raising taxes on the hardworking people of South Carolina in the midst of rising budget surpluses,” Massey said, in a statement. “We will continue talking with senators to reach an agreement because we are committed to passing comprehensive, effective legislation this session to fix our roads, repair an antiquated tax system and promote economic prosperity for all South Carolinians.”

McMaster would not commit to a veto if the House bill did reach his desk but, he did say increasing taxes is “never a good idea because it always hurts someone.”

“We have a lot of young people trying to move up the ladder, a lot of older people on fixed incomes and we have people who are driving trucks with small crews and those trucks don’t get 25 miles to the gallon, they get seven miles to the gallon,” McMaster said. “The answer is, raising taxes in South Carolina is not a good idea. I do not want to do it and I believe there is money in the budget and money we are expecting to come in through the great growth we are experiencing.”

Proponents of the House bill contended the Senate was costing “lives and money” by delaying action on the bill.

“The people of South Carolina deserve better and expect more – they want the Senate do its job, follow the House’s lead and make a long-term investment in our decaying roads and decrepit bridges that we can all celebrate,” said Ted Pitts, S.C. Chamber of Commerce president and CEO in a statement.”

When pressed, McMaster said there were “no definite plans” to fix the state’s road infrastructure only to say “we must have accountability among the groups, including the State Infrastructure Bank, the Highway Commission, with the governor has very little control over … that is not a very good way to have a strategic plan.”

VIDEO: McMaster on the gas tax and roads

 

Reach Matthew Clark at 864-235-5677, ext. 107.

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