South Carolina House Democratic Leader Todd Rutherford slammed Senate Republicans Wednesday for not passing a gas tax increase to fix state roads and bridges. “We had the opportunity to raise the gas tax in South Carolina to pay for the roads. What did we do this year? We passed. And why did we pass? Because Republican leadership lacks the backbone to get the job done,” he told reporters at the Statehouse.
He says Republicans were afraid to pass a gas tax increase, even though it’s badly needed, because it’s an election year and Republicans are more worried about losing their jobs than doing their jobs.
The House passed a bill last year that included a gas tax increase to pay for roads and bridges, but the Senate passed a different version that contains no gas tax increase.
Sen. Larry Grooms, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, says the reason House Republicans were willing to pass a gas tax increase is because they didn’t know at the time what the state’s economy would do. By the time the Senate was working on the bill, senators knew the state had a $1.4 billion surplus, so they decided to use some of that money for roads instead of raising the gas tax.
Rep. Rutherford says using that general fund money for roads and bridges means lawmakers are not fully funding education or aid to cities and counties, which means your taxes could go up anyway. “When we don’t do it up here, we make local governments raise taxes. We make individuals pay for tires and rims and everything else, and windshields, when they drive on bad roads. We are passing that tax on to them and people cannot handle it,” he says.
But Sen. Grooms says there’s no reason for local governments to raise taxes because their state money and the education budget are not being cut. “The education budget’s being increased. The amount of money going back to local government’s being increased. State employees are getting pay raises and we’re funding roads with existing moneys,” he says.
A conference committee of three House members and three senators will work out a final version of a plan to fix roads, since the House and Senate passed different bills. Rep. Rutherford and Sen. Grooms are both on that conference committee, which met for the first time Wednesday. Rep. Rutherford says he’ll push for them to raise the gas tax.