South Carolina lawmakers went back into session Tuesday at the Statehouse with a full agenda ahead of them. The top issue, according to lawmakers and voters, is fixing state roads.
Rep. Gary Simrill, R-Rock Hill, says some people want to reform the state DOT first and then see if it needs more money. But he says waiting a year or two to provide more money for roads is not an option. “A wet season, as much rain as we’ve had, has exposed more vulnerabilities in the roads. It’s created more potholes and so, really, the longer we delay, the worse it gets, the less safe our roads are,” he says.
The House passed a plan last year that’s now in the Senate, although senators have changed it. The plan includes raising the gas tax, an income tax rebate, and restructuring the DOT.
State lawmakers do have a $1.3 billion surplus to work with. While some taxpayers say that money should go to roads, Simrill says there are several problems with using that money for roads. One, most of it is one-time money, while the DOT needs at least $1 billion more per year for the next 20 years to bring roads up to good condition. Two, using the surplus instead of raising the gas tax means drivers passing through the state or visiting don’t pay any more, even though they’re using our roads.
“To say take all of the new revenue and put it just to roads short-changes South Carolinians because we let folks who don’t have a 29— zip code come through for free, and we should be collecting at the pump and letting one-third of our roads be paid for by out-of-state residents,” he says.
Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens, says he’s heard from plenty of people at home, though, that before giving the DOT any additional money they want to see some changes at the agency. “People really don’t have an overabundance of confidence in how the current pipeline of funding is being managed,” he says.
The other main issues for this year’s session are:
–Education. The state Supreme Court ruled that the state is not providing a minimally adequate education in some rural districts that sued the state. Lawmakers must come up with a plan to correct that. Both the House and Senate have been working on options.
–Flood relief. Lawmakers say some of that surplus should be used for flood relief, since the surplus is one-time money and flood relief is a one-time need.