051117 Roads: Gas tax will boost funds for county projects
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Georgetown County will get an additional $1.2 million for road work.
Charles Swenson/Coastal Observer

Roads: Gas tax will boost funds for county projects

By Nikki Best

Legislature is closing for the year and the question of whether the gas tax bill will go through is finally answered.

Years in the making, the bill left conference committee and was presented to the governor on Tuesday. It was vetoed. The state House voted Wednesday morning to override the governor’s veto, with more than two-thirds of the members voting in favor, 95-18. The state Senate overrode the veto Wednesday afternoon with a vote of 32-12. It will become law.

Gov. Henry McMaster told the general assembly he would veto the gas tax bill. He believes reform to the department of transportation is the answer, rather than what he called, “the single largest tax increase in our state’s history.”

“Right now over 1/4 of your gas tax dollars are not used for road repairs. They’re siphoned off for government agency overhead and programs that have nothing to do with roads,” McMaster said in a statement on Tuesday. “If we would simply reform how DOT spends your tax dollars to be responsible and accountable we’d have plenty of money and this gas tax hike would be totally unnecessary.”

State Rep. Lee Hewitt weighed in on the governor’s opposition of the bill. “He never came up with a plan,” he said. “It’s easy for him to say that, but he never came up with a plan that said here’s how we can take our existing money and do what we need to have done.”

Once it is fully implemented the new law will provide an additional $1.2 million to the Georgetown County Transportation Committee fund. These “C” funds are allocated for road maintenance on state, county or city roads within the county. The new tax revenue will more than double what the county receives from the state now.

Hewitt knows the bill isn’t perfect. He doesn’t like that the legislation became awkward when the tuition credit and the gas tax rebate were added. In a perfect world, “anytime you’re dealing with an issue you just deal with that issue,” he said.

The freshman representative also approves of the DOT reforms on the bill. The governor can now appoint, with advice and consent of the General Assembly, highway commissioners. Legislation also prevents a commissioner from being involved with any contracts for road repair and for one year following any work on the commission.

The legislation also removes DOT funding from the general budget. This means, “the user fee is going into a trust fund, the new tax, will be placed in a trust fund and it can only be used for fixing or repaving existing state roads,” Hewitt said.

The SCDOT says it needs $1 billion a year to fix all the roads in the state. The new tax is forecasted to generate $800 million. Most provisions will take effect July 1.

“We’ve got a baby,” Hewitt said of the new law. “It’s an ugly baby, but we’ve got one now.”

The current bill will implement:

• A 12 cents per gallon gas tax hike, to be phased in over six years.

• A $250 one-time fee for vehicles bought out-of-state and later registered in South Carolina.

• A $120 fee every two years on electric vehicles and a $60 fee on hybrids.

• A $16 increase in vehicle registration fees.

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