State legislators representing Horry and Georgetown counties signaled road and bridge work as their top priorities in a panel Tuesday.
State senators and representatives at the event, organized by the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, indicated support for a gas tax to permanently fund transportation infrastructure improvements. South Carolina has the second-lowest gas tax in the country.
State Rep. Alan Clemmons, R-Myrtle Beach, said he had supported an effort in the last legislative session, which was unsuccessful, to enact a rise in the tax.
“I will likely vote for it again,” Clemmons said. “I believe we need to have a sustainable mechanism by which we can support our roads and bridges.”
Several attending lawmakers signaled potential support for the measure, including S.C. Sens. Luke Rankin, R, Ronnie Saab, D, and Stephen Golfinch, R; and S.C. Reps. Greg Duckworth, R, Jeff Johnson, R and Russell Fry, R.
Rep. Lee Hewitt, R, said he would need to see the details of a proposal before supporting a tax increase. Johnson said he was in favor of a credit to state residents to reduce the burden of the tax, and Duckworth said he could be in favor of some of the proceeds supporting mass transit.
Some also bemoaned recent environmentalist backlash to projects like International Drive.
“I really, really, really am perturbed with what’s going on lately with, let’s call them ‘environmental zealots,’ stopping very necessary infrastructure projects,” Goldfinch said. “There’s no reason why one person can write a letter, essentially, pay their filing fee and stop a $100 million road project. It’s just not right.”
Clemmons said he hopes active environmental groups would be cooperative as new projects, like Interstate 73, come online. That roadway would run from Interstate 95 to Myrtle Beach.
“I suspect [cooperation] will not be their chosen path,” he said.
Clemmons was optimistic about the interstate however, and said lawmakers are pushing for federal funding.
Legislators also said new leadership at the top of state government, with Republican Gov. Nikki Haley leaving for a spot in the administration of President-Elect Donald Trump, could mean some legislation would encounter less resistance in Columbia.
Haley vetoed multiple bills last legislative session, including one that would have required moped drivers to wear helmets and reflective vests, one that granted $40 million in aid to farmers and another that allowed municipalities like Myrtle Beach to extend a sales tax slated for tourism advertising without a referendum. State lawmakers later overrode the farm aid cuts and the sales tax veto.
Rankin, who has clashed with the state’s top elected official several times, said, “I am looking most forward to Gov. Haley becoming UN Ambassador.”
An earlier version of this story mischaracterized Hewitt’s position on a potential gas tax.