South Carolina is expected to have an extra $400 million to play with in the state budget and Gov. Nikki Haley and some Republicans in the House and Senate said Tuesday it should either go back to taxpayers, used to pay down state debt, or go to roads. “What we don’t want is to have another free-for-all, and all we’ve heard all weekend long is all the lobbyists lining up saying, ‘I want this, this, and this,'” Gov. Haley told reporters outside the Statehouse Tuesday morning.
The state Board of Economic Advisors is expected to meet Friday to revise its estimate of how much money the state will take in from taxes. The BEA estimates how much the state will take in and lawmakers use that amount to write the state budget. But the state’s economy has improved, so the state is taking in more than expected, which is why the board is expected to revise its estimate by $400 million.
Rep. Tommy Stringer, R-Greenville, says, “It’s a very simple answer to really a very simple question: What do you do with $400 million? Every time I hit a pothole the answer is very apparent to me.”
Gov. Haley says using the $400 million for roads this year would mean there’s no need to raise the gas tax this year to fund roads. Rep. Stringer says it would give lawmakers more time to work out a different plan for how to fund roads long term.
Lawmakers are already debating what to do with another pot of “extra” money. By state law, they have to set aside money every year in the budget in the Capital Reserve Fund, to be used in case of a downturn in the economy or a state emergency like a hurricane. If that money isn’t needed at the end of the year, lawmakers decide how to spend it.
This year, the plan is to spend part of it on building needs at the state’s colleges and universities, which put off maintenance and repairs during the recession. But Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, is filibustering on the Senate floor, holding up that spending plan. He wants the $47 million to go to roads instead. “If you have needs with higher education, you have to weigh them against the needs in regard to roads and bridges, and right now in terms of the capital appropriation, I think that our roads and bridges are in more dire need of attention than higher education for this year,” he says.
But it’s not as simple as spending all surplus money on roads and bridges, says Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Columbia, House Minority Leader. “It’s simply not that easy to do. We’ve got cuts that we made back in 2007 that we’re still trying to fix. You saw a bill come through today that would fund more troopers at construction sites to make sure our roads are safer when we do go out there and fix them. So there are needs all the time that people have in South Carolina. We’ve got to make sure that those shortfalls are met,” he says, adding that some of the surplus money should go to roads.