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SC Senate Looking for Funding Options for State Roads

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State senators know they need to find a way to spend more on South Carolina's crumbling roads and bridges. But there are so many different road funding bills that the Senate created a special subcommittee just to go through them all and try to come up with a final plan.

That subcommittee met Wednesday afternoon.

While some lawmakers say raising the state's gas tax would be the most practical way to raise more money for roads, Gov. Nikki Haley has said she will veto any gas tax increase, so that option is off the table. But one bill, sponsored by Rep. Greg Gregory, R-Lancaster, would let counties raise their own gas taxes.

"County councils could put on the ballot a question for the voters as to whether they would like to approve an increase in the local gas tax, up to two cents a gallon," he says. All the money would go to road maintenance.

He doesn't think a county's raising its gas tax would cause many drivers to go to a neighboring county to get their gas. "Gas is a price-sensitive commodity, but I don't know that 2 cents is really going to make that much difference, especially on the counties that border North Carolina and Georgia, of which there are a good many," he says. That's because both states already have higher gas taxes than South Carolina's, which is fourth-lowest in the nation.

Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley, is sponsoring a bill that would take a different approach to raising more money for roads. He wants to use part of any new revenue that comes into the state for roads.

"We'll take one percent of the state revenues," he says. "And if the growth continues, like we believe it will, within six years it will be a sum equal to what we already collected in gasoline taxes. So we would double the amount of state money going to the DOT with my plan."

Sen. Harvey Peeler, R-Gaffney, has his own plan for raising more money for roads. It has several parts, including using the sales tax money from cars and trucks for roads, instead of going into the General Fund. He says that would bring in about $103 million a year. His plan would also use 20 percent of any new state revenue for bridges, specifically.

"The good news is that at least we're having a hearing," he says. "At least we understand there's a problem, and so I'm cautiously optimistic that, by the time we get through with the budget, we'll have some money for our roads and bridges. We desperately need it, especially in the Upstate."

Other ideas being discussed include a bill by Sen. Nikki Setzler, D-West Columbia, to borrow $500 million to use for roads. Another, by Sen. Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, would allow counties to raise their sales tax by one penny, with the money going to roads.

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