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Road funding bill returns to House

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At the twilight of the 2016 S.C. Legislative session, lawmakers continue to bounce a bill aimed at providing up to $4 billion in funds to improve roads back and forth.

Late Tuesday night, by a 31-10 vote, the S.C. Senate approved the roads funding bill, S 1258, with additional modifications specifically related to the appointment of S.C. Department of Transportation board members. The approval sent the bill back to the S.C. House for a second time in a month.

The Senate changed language in the bill to allow all transportation district appointees to be made by the governor but confirmed by legislative delegation representing the area the appointee is appointed to represent. The Joint Transportation Review Committee will receive any appointee that is approved by the delegation. If the delegation does not render a decision within 45 days of receiving the appointee, the appointee is automatically disapproved.

The Senate also changed a provision in the bill that gave the governor the ability to appoint a secretary of transportation. Under the new version, the Commission of the Department of Transportation, all members of which are appointed by the governor with the consent of the Senate, will appoint and oversee a secretary of transportation.

The reform to the Department of Transportation has been a fight taken up by Gov. Nikki Haley, as well as by the House, but has been rejected in the past by the Senate. Bill Ross, executive director of the S.C. Alliance to Fix Our Roads, said today that the Senate compromise was a move in the right direction.

“We felt for quite some time because all of the bills introduced have included DOT reform, the mood was such that in order to get road funding approved, you have to have a reform mechanism in place,” Ross said in a telephone interview from the Statehouse.

The Senate version does keep in place the ability for the state to use bonds and other proceeds of up to $4 billion to fund road and bridge improvements. The bill allows for motor vehicle taxes and Department of Motor Vehicle fees to be used for bonding purposes. The bill also requires all projects from the S.C. Transportation Infrastructure Bank be submitted to the DOT Commission for approval. The minimum amount of financing for such projects would be $25 million, down from the $100 million originally proposed.

“It’s not a long-term solution, but it does get some projects, some large projects, moving,” Ross said.

Just a week before, the House passed the measure 72-2 with revisions that included DOT reform measures. According to House Speaker Jay Lucas’ office, it was the House Ways and Means Committee, chaired by Anderson Republican Rep. Brian White, that amended the previous Senate version to include the reform measures requested by Haley and other House members. At the time of its passage back to the Senate, Lucas said accountability in the DOT was a crucial component to providing any funding for any improvements.

“The General Assembly should not give another penny to the Department of Transportation without certain accountability requirements in place to ensure taxpayer dollars are spent wisely,” Lucas said, in a statement.

According to various media reports, it was Lucas who took to the House floor to call out Haley and members of the Senate for their inaction on the funding bill. The Fix Our Roads website cited Lucas saying Haley “believes her time is better spent endorsing opponents of sitting General Assembly members, rather than demand the senators across the hall do their job and pass a roads bill.”

Due to the late passage Tuesday, the road funding bill was not on the House calendar for today.

Reach Matthew Clark at 864-720-1222.

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