050417 Roads: Optimism for gas tax rise after 5-year debate
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Roads: Optimism for gas tax rise after 5-year debate

By Nikki Best
Coastal Observer

The state Senate approved a veto-proof bill last week that will increase the gas tax with the intent of repairing roads and bridges.

The latest senate version of the gas tax proposes an increase in state gas tax from 16.75 cents to 28.75 per gallon, in turn the House version proposed a 10 cent hike to 26.75 per gallon. At a Georgetown County GOP Issue Group meeting last week, Sen. Stephen Goldfinch said the increase will help create $800 million per year in road repair revenue when the bill is fully implemented. “That’s 12 cents total. Two cents per year over six years,” he said. After the initial six years the gas tax would be adjusted for inflation, not to exceed 2 percent, on an annual basis.

One source of revenue going toward the $800 million would also be collected from increasing the drivers licensing fee from $12.50 to $25 for a five year license and replacing the 10 year license with an eight year license costing $40 instead of $25.

The sales tax cap associated with the purchase or lease of motor vehicles, boats, aircraft, motorcycles, trailers or semi-trailers pulled by a truck tractor, horse trailers, recreational vehicles and self-propelled light construction equipment would double from $300 to $600. The House version of the bill proposes increasing the cap to $500.

Goldfinch said there were negotiations to switch from the sales tax cap to a percentage based tax, similar to other states, but he was against it. “No, we don’t think that’s right,” he said. “$600 and it’s capped.”

A clean vehicle fee is also attached to the bill. Electric or hydrogen powered cars would be charged $120 and hybrid drivers would be charged $60 every other year. Lawmakers justify this charge claiming that individuals who drive these types of cars would not pay their fair share of the gas tax.

“As gas tax revenues come down and hybrid cars come up, we need to try to balance that out,” Goldfinch said. Both versions of the bill nearly double vehicle registration fees.

The senate version of the bill kept the creation of the Infrastructure Maintenance Trust Fund, originally from the house version of the bill. The IMTF would receive its funding from the increases in fees and could direct the funds to pay state highway debt.

“There were also some bad things in the bill,” Goldfinch said referring to the proposed $1,500 credit for students who attend technical college. “Now you may or may not think this is a bad thing. We shouldn’t be giving away free college. Absolutely no doubt about it.”

He said that Democrats proposed free college across the board, but were negotiated down to the technical college credit, “Which I believe is the future anyway.”

Goldfinch supports this version of the bill, despite its shortcomings. “The bill is not perfect by any means at all, but at the end of the day we’re going to fix roads with this bill,” he said.

The bill entered conference committee Wednesday night. Goldfinch is confident a compromise between the House and Senate can be reached because the roads need to be fixed. “Do we want to go through another five years of this,” he said.

State legislative session will adjourn May 11.

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