COLUMBIA - Democratic gubernatorial candidate Vincent Sheheen said Tuesday that if elected, he would dedicate five percent of the state's general fund within five years to the state's crumbling roads and bridges.
On Tuesday, the Camden state Senator released a road funding plan calling for no increase in the state's gas tax but a dedicated stream of revenue and an infusion of borrowed money.
South Carolina's roads, bridges and highways are among the least safe in the country, his campaign said in a statement. Sheheen said he would ask the Department of Transportation to better prioritize its maintenance plan, a "Fix-it-First" approach. He also called for up to $1 billion in new bonds to fix the biggest problem areas and a dedication of 5 percent of the state's general fund budget for roads. This year, the state had a $7 billion general fund, which would have meant $350 million for roads.
"I think we can do it," Sheheen said. "I don't think it's a partisan issue. It should be all of us working together to reach that goal."
Sheheen's plans resemble a road funding plan introduced by Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Charleston, several years ago. Grooms said he didn't mind Sheheen touting the plan as his, as long as it becomes law.
"I appreciate leadership no matter where we get it from," Grooms said. "If it passes and he wants to take full credit then so be it. I just want it to become law. I think it's a good plan."
South Carolina's gas tax is among the lowest in the nation, at 16 cents a gallon, and it generates about $500 million per year. In 2013, the Palmetto State had the lowest gas prices in the country for the second straight year, according to a report by AAA. Sheheen said he is not in favor of raising the gas tax, because he believes it's a declining source of revenue.
"It's why we're in this mess right now, because we solely rely on it," Sheheen said. "If all we do is rely on the gas tax, we'll be having this discussion 10 years from now."
Officials have said the Department of Transportation faces a $29 billion shortfall for repairs over the next two decades.
Some have said that the state cannot address the roads shortfalls without an increase in the state's gas tax. But Gov. Nikki Haley has also said a gas tax increase is not necessary, and said she plans to release a more detailed road funding plan before the start of the next legislative session in January, but after the November election.
"Although Vince Sheheen has previously said his roads plan included tax and fee increases, we are pleased to see that as Election Day draws nearer, he has decided to copy the governor's plan - and spend money the legislature already has," said Chaney Adams, Haley campaign spokesman.
Independent Tom Ervin has called for an increase in the state's gas tax, and ridiculed both Haley and Sheheen's plans in a written statement.
"A transportation plan that is secured by Sen. Sheheen's borrowed funds and Gov. Haley's projected revenue is as dangerous and pathetic as the roads in this state," Ervin said. "My plan of eliminating the personal income tax, additional tax reform, and providing for dedicated funds for our crumbling roads and bridges will not only make South Carolina safer, but also provide for a robust inclusive economy."