Chamber of Commerce urges Senate to increase gas tax

Chamber of Commerce urges Senate to increase gas tax
April 21 21:10 2017 Print This Article

The Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce held a press conference Friday urging the State Senate to increase taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel to address problems with roads and bridges. The Senate is debating legislation to increase the fuels tax two cents per gallon each year for the next six years. The state fuels tax has remained at 16.75 cents per gallon since 1987.

Chamber Chairman Patrick Bryant cited statistics by the Washington, DC non-profit TRIP, which issued its annual South Carolina roads report in March. The study rated 43% of area roads as poor to mediocre and estimated that poor road maintenance costs the average driver $1850 in upkeep costs annually. TRIP is funded by insurance companies, construction companies, equipment manufacturers and labor unions. You can read the South Carolina TRIP report here: http://www.tripnet.org/docs/SC_Transportation_by_the_Numbers_TRIP_Report_March_2017.pdf

State Representative Katie Arrington (R-Summerville) appealed to the Senate and Governor Henry McMaster to approve the fuels tax increase. She stated that the fuels tax amounts to a user-fee for drivers and that poor road maintenance contributed to 973 driving fatalities in South Carolina last year. She said, “Those struggling to make ends meet will be better served paying an extra two cents per gallon (12 cents per gallon over six years) than getting a flat tire or having a rock go through their windshield (because of poorly maintained roads).”

Bryan Derreberry, President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Charleston Chamber, noted that surveys with more than 150 area business CEOs indicate that better-funded roads and bridges is their top concern. He stated that Chamber organizations statewide have advocated for an increase in the fuels tax for the past three years. Derreberry cited billion dollar infrastructure projects passed by the legislatures in Georgia and North Carolina. Georgia currently has a 28.6 cents per gallon fuels tax and North Carolina’s rate is 39.9 cents per gallon.

Arrington voted with a veto-proof 97-18 majority in the House to increase the fuels tax 10 cents per gallon over five years. The Senate amended the bill to raise the tax 12 cents per gallon over six years in its Finance Committee. The full Senate debated the bill this week and will take it up again when it reconvenes on Tuesday. Senate President Hugh Leatherman (R-Florence) has given his members a deadline of Thursday to vote on the roads bill, which also includes an increase in the sales tax cap on car sales and a fee for owners of hybrid and electric cars. Leatherman has threatened to hold the Senate in session beyond the normal Thursday afternoon adjournment if no vote is taken.

Area Senators Larry Grooms, Sandy Senn, Sean Bennett, and Stephen Goldfinch have expressed reservations about the roads bill. Some Senators want an amendment to offset the fuels tax increase with a gradual decline in personal income tax rate. Others want to make the South Carolina Department of Transportation a true cabinet agency and eliminate the Congressional District Highway Commissioners. Senn filed amendments to change the highway funding formula to provide more revenue to donor counties like Charleston and to allow counties to vote for local option fuels taxes which keep the revenue in the county.

Gov. McMaster has threatened to veto a fuels tax increase. If the Senate passes the fuels tax bill, a conference committee will be convened to resolve differences between the House and Senate bills. The compromise legislation would then need to be approved by the full House and Senate. With two vacancies in the Senate, it would take 15 Senators to sustain a McMaster veto.