The S.C. House voted 97 to 18 on Wednesday to increase the state’s gas tax and other driving fees to raise about $600 million for repairs to S.C. roads and bridges.
The state’s gas tax will increase by 2 cents a year for the next five years, and would cost an added $60 a year for the average S.C. driver.
The tax hike and other fee increases will raise the $1 billion the Department of Transportation estimates it needs to repair and maintain S.C. roads. The money would also be spent to make S.C. roads, the deadliest in the nation, safer.
“We’re at crisis point when it comes to roads in South Carolina,” said House Majority Leader Gary Simrill, R-York, who has championed the bill.
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The House approved the tax increase with a wide enough majority to override a potential veto by S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster. McMaster, a Richland Republican, has not said whether he will veto the plan, but he has said taxes should be raised only as a last resort.
The bill will now head to the S.C. Senate after a perfunctory final House vote on Thursday.
There, the bill faces the hurdle of state Sen. Tom Davis, who has filibustered a gas-tax increase two years in a row.
But the GOP-controlled House overwhelmingly supported the proposal.
“Refusing to compromise will not solve our roads problem, but simply places politics above responsible public policy,” said S.C. House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington. “A delayed resolution continues to threaten the safety of South Carolina drivers and increases costs for repair and resurfacing of decaying roads and bridges.”
The bill was passed after unsuccessful efforts to add income tax cuts to the proposal and make the Transportation Department a part of the governor’s cabinet.
But supporters pointed to the poor condition of the state’s roads.
“We don’t have enough money to keep our roads in a safe condition,” said state Rep. Russell Ott, D-Calhoun.
“You’ve got potholes on the interstate,” said state Rep. Joe Jefferson, D-Berkeley. He said that even if Gov. McMaster vetoed the proposal, lawmakers can override it.
Freshman lawmaker state Rep. Katie Arrington, R-Dorchester, said when she campaigned last year she went door-to-door pushing for a gas-tax increase.
She referenced a recent car wreck in her district as recently as Monday as reasons to approve the tax hike.
“I’m not going back to my district and saying I didn’t fight for you,” Arrington said.