South Carolina road and bridge needs have been well documented, and the need for additional funding to fix them is generally recognized. While the Legislature provided some relief last year, mainly with a $500 million bond issue, that hardly begins to cover the infrastructure backlog, estimated as high as $29 billion.

The gas tax is the mainstay of state highway funding, and hiking the gas tax would be the most dependable way to raise more money.

Unfortunately, the Legislature has been unwilling to do so for years.

Or has it?

In a speech to South Carolina mayors meeting in Blythewood on Dec. 4, Gov. Nikki Haley declared that last year legislators "came to me and they said we need to raise the gas tax, we need to raise the gas tax."

The governor said she concluded that more funding for infrastructure could be obtained elsewhere before hiking the gas tax.

Moreover, businesses like the state's low gas tax, she said.

No question, it's low, at least in comparison to other states. At 16 cents per gallon it ranks near the bottom of all states. And despite its comparatively small size, South Carolina has one of the largest road systems in the nation.

North Carolina, by comparison, has a state gas tax of 37.6 cents a gallon.

South Carolina's gas tax hasn't been increased since 1987, despite the growing need.

Keeping the gas tax low would be great for motorists, if the state Department of Transportation could take care of all the road and bridge problems with the money at hand.

But it can't. The gas tax ought to function as a user fee so that those who use the roads pay for their upkeep. However, it's been proven inadequate to the task. For example, 22 percent of the state's 8,157 bridges are substandard.

Legislators might dispute Gov. Haley's account. But there is no disputing the necessity of providing a regular source of additional revenue to the DOT.

As Gov. Haley concluded in her comments to the mayors on state infrastructure needs, "There will be a time and place when we have to talk about the gas tax."

The time should be now, and the place Columbia. But so far the Legislature hasn't been willing to endorse even a modest gas-tax hike.

Next session, starting next month, the Legislature and the governor need to get on the same page regarding the DOT's funding needs.

The fact that as much as 40 percent of state gas tax revenue is paid by out-of- state truckers, and motorists should make that overdue job a lot easier.