Jobs news conjures specter of recession

Job-seekers wait to enter a job fair in South Los Angeles this week. Fewer people applied for unemployment benefits last week, a sign that layoffs have stabilized.

A proposal to increase the state excise tax for a gallon of gas drew mixed response Thursday from motorists filling up at a Folly Road convenience store.

A panel has suggested increasing the gasoline tax by 5.5 cents per gallon to raise $150 million more annually for the state Department of Transportation.

"This increase would provide needed revenue for roads while keeping the tax rate competitive with Georgia and North Carolina," according to a draft report issued by the Fuel Tax Subcommittee of the South Carolina Taxation Realignment Commission. Legislators will consider the commission recommendations.

Andre Holmes of James Island did not welcome the fuel tax proposal. "It's kind of tough, as high as gas prices are," Holmes said. He suggested increased taxes on non-essentials, such as cigarettes and alcohol.

The panel recommends raising the excise tax from 16.75 cents per gallon to 22.25 cents per gallon.

Jeanne Wiggins supported the idea. "Oh, yes. These roads are horrible," Wiggins said. Better roads would mean lower car maintenance costs, she said.

Tim Bryson also supported the proposal if higher fuel excise taxes meant better roads. "The roads definitely need some work. If that's what it takes, I guess I would go along with it, but I'd want to see some results," he said.

The state excise tax on a gallon of gasoline is the lowest in the Southeast and the third-lowest in the country. It has not changed since 1987. The state funding for roads ranks 49th in the country at $20,000 per mile.

Henry Taylor spoke with The Post and Courier in March about the state's road funding woes after resigning as chairman of the state DOT commission. The state motor fuel excise tax has not been raised in more than 20 years while fuel prices have skyrocketed, Taylor said.

"We simply are not receiving enough to maintain our roads, much less contemplate new projects. Funding for the DOT is inadequate," he said.

Taylor said he does not support an increase in the gasoline excise tax but thinks the state could look at other options, such as a tax tied to fuel cost, like a sales tax, as is done in North Carolina.

More money will be spent on gas this weekend as AAA Carolinas is forecasting a 7.7 percent increase in Labor Day travel. An estimated 32,000 more motorists are predicted to vacation more than 50 miles from home this holiday than last year because of lower gas prices. All estimates are based on numbers that do not account for Hurricane Earl.

South Carolina prices average $2.43 for a gallon of regular unleaded gas, down 13 cents from the summer peak on Aug. 10 and 18 cents lower than Memorial Day gasoline prices. The most expensive gasoline in the state is in Charleston at $2.48 and the least expensive is in Spartanburg at $2.39.

Reach Prentiss Findlay at 937-5711 or pfindlay@postandcourier.com.