Gov. Henry McMaster

Gov. Henry McMaster holds a bills signing at the governor's mansion in Columbia. Andrew Brown/Staff

COLUMBIA — Gov. Henry McMaster again threatened to veto a highway funding bill that would increase the state's gas tax for the first time in 30 years, even as the state Senate passed the legislation with enough votes to override him.

A bipartisan group of senators voted 32-12 late Monday for a historic compromise bill which was ironed out by six members of the House and Senate last week.

The legislation, which was one of the Statehouse's biggest priorities this year, is now expected to be taken up by the House on Tuesday.

As it stands, the measure is expected to raise more than $600 million a year in additional funding for South Carolina’s roads and bridges once a 12-cent per gallon gas tax increase and other driver related fees are fully phased in. The tax is now almost 17 cents per gallon.

The agreement also includes alternative tax cuts and rebates for college tuition, earned income, manufacturing property and vehicle maintenance costs — all of which were demanded by Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Charleston, and other Republican senators.

McMaster has opposed increasing prices at the pump for weeks, and he reiterated Monday that his stance hasn't changed now that state lawmakers are poised to boost the state's 16.75 cent gas tax, which is currently the second lowest in the country.

"We have plenty of money in the system to do all the work on the roads if we would just apply it to the roads that need the work," McMaster said Monday morning at a different bill signing ceremony. "It's not necessary to put yet another tax on the people of South Carolina."

The S.C. Department of Transportation says it needs an additional $500 million a year just to fix pavement, not to mention the estimated $50 million to fix dangerous rural roads and the $46 million needed to replace substandard bridges.

While the Senate advanced the gas tax bill Monday — something it was unable to do in past years — not all lawmakers got on board.

A group of Republicans, including Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, continued to vote against the legislation and delayed its passage for several hours by dragging on debate. 

Davis spent nearly five hours at the Senate chamber podium as he stalled the vote. 

But with a large bipartisan group of senators coming together, Davis and other anti-tax Republicans were not able to stymie the legislation as they had in past years.

Still, the changes made in the joint House and Senate committee prompted some senators to drop their support.

Sen. Chip Campsen, R-Isle of Palms, had voted for the Senate’s initial version of the bill, but said he wasn’t going to vote for the compromise legislation because it gave tax cuts to big businesses but didn’t include other property tax cuts he had wanted.

The bill is expected to receive quick approval in the House, where members have been adamant about increasing funding for highway and bridge repairs throughout the state. ​

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Reach Andrew Brown at 843-708-1830 or follow him on Twitter @andy_ed_brown.

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