COLUMBIA, S.C. (WSPA)—The South Carolina House and Senate voted Wednesday to override Gov. Henry McMaster’s veto of a road-funding bill, which means the bill becomes law.
The law will raise the gas tax by two cents a gallon per year for six years starting July 1st. There are rebates in the law that will allow state residents to get back on their state tax returns the additional money they pay at the pump.
The law also contains: raising the current sales tax limit on vehicles from $300 to $500; a $250 one-time fee for vehicles that are bought in another state and later registered in SC; a $120 fee every two years for electric vehicles and a $60 fee every two years for hybrids; a $16 increase in vehicle registration fees.
The law will bring in an estimated $630 million a year in new money once it’s fully implemented.
Gov. McMaster vetoed the bill because he says the SCDOT already gets enough money but doesn’t spend it responsibly. But lawmakers scoffed at that. Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Columbia, told fellow House members, “What the governor missed, maybe, is that we had a Legislative Audit Council report. They went to the DOT. They went through all their books, and you know what they said, governor? Give them more money. They can’t make it on what they’ve got.”
House Speaker Jay Lucas spoke to the House, urging them to override the governor’s veto. He said he knows the governor well and he’s a good man, but he’s mistaken on this issue. “He chose to listen, I believe, to campaign consultants rather than the people of the great state of South Carolina,” he said to applause. “His veto message amounts to little more than asking us to reorganize the deck chairs on the Titanic in hopes that it won’t sink.”
Rep. Micah Caskey, R-West Columbia, was even more blunt. He said the governor’s claim that there’s already enough money for roads doesn’t make sense when the governor asked the federal government for $5 billion for roads and he also proposed that the state borrow $1 billion for roads. “I didn’t want to have to vote yes for this bill, but I did, because that’s what leadership requires–admitting reality and stepping forward and addressing it. What it is not is cowering below, hiding behind political pablum, waiting on somebody else to fix it because you were worried about your own career.”
Rep. Katie Arrington, R-Summerville, was also blunt. “Excuse me, governor, but you are wrong. You are not listening to the people you are governing, and you might want to think about a new job very quickly,” she said.
But there were House members who stood up for the veto and criticized the bill. Rep. Jonathon Hill, R-Townville, said increasing the gas tax, even by two cents a gallon a year, would be too much for a lot of people. “They’re the ones that are struggling from paycheck to paycheck, barely getting by. They’re the ones that are wondering how they’re going to put food on the table. And we’re going to put even more of a burden on them,” he said.
But other lawmakers pointed out that the tax increase will amount to only a few dollars more per month for most drivers, while the current poor condition of our roads is costing them hundreds or thousands of dollars in new tires, wheel alignments, and other vehicle repairs. In many cases, they said, road conditions are causing accidents with injuries and deaths.
Sen. Ross Turner, R-Greenville, said after the Senate vote, “I know some of us had concerns, and there were a lot of concerns out there, that the money get to the roads, and I think we were able to do that.” The law creates a new trust fund and all of the new gas tax money will go into it. That fund can be used only to repair existing roads and bridges.
Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Camden, said, “Some things just aren’t true and what the governor said is just not true. We have worked with DOT. DOT has made incredible strides over the last five years. They have been rated as the most efficient DOT in America. Everybody knows, who pays attention, that we spend some of the least amount of money in America on our roads. You get what you pay for. We’ve been paying for cruddy roads. It’s about time we pay for some good roads and that’s what we’re about to do.”
The law also reforms the SCDOT Commission, giving the governor the ability to appoint all of its members, with approval from state lawmakers. He can also fire them for any or no reason, which lawmakers say gives him the ability to make sure roads money goes where it’s supposed to.