COLUMBIA — Beaufort Republican Sen. Tom Davis wants his three-day filibuster to fuel public outcry for reform of the state Department of Transportation. Instead it is generating political baggage inside and outside of the Statehouse.
Davis spoke for nearly seven hours in the Senate on Tuesday about the need to change the DOT Commission instead of just sending it more money. Outside groups are stepping up pressure as the debate drags on with no action.
“The only time we get real reform is when the people here fear the people back home,” Davis said. “People are wondering if they’re going to have primary challengers ... the ability to withstand a primary challenge is going to be tied materially to whether or not we do something meaningful.”
The S.C. Chamber of Commerce, however, is not pleased with the pace and may withhold issuing support for other lawmakers if the roadblock remains.
“As incumbent senators look to the business community for support in their reelection, I think they’re watching very closely to what happens,” Chamber President Ted Pitts said. “And quite frankly, it continues to frustrate the business community that we keep being told ‘we want to fix our infrastructure,’ but we’re not seeing any sizable actions to get to the issue.”
Their main target is Davis, who carried over his filibuster from last year. The group’s “filibusters only cause more traffic jams” campaign is encouraging members to lobby senators to push for Davis to sit down and to start voting on amendments.
The Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce fired up its own “we are running out of time” campaign last week.
“They’re at a juncture and they need to get it done this week,” director Bryan Derreberry said. “We can’t wait another year to take action. We don’t hear too much from our membership about reform of DOT.”
Senators are also getting fed up, especially as special interest groups target them ahead of the March filings for re-election.
“Outside groups continue to hit my district with messages, over and over again, to imply that I’m the author of the straight up gasoline tax,” Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Charleston, said. “I’m receiving emails telling me to ‘vote against the Larry Grooms amendment to increase the gas tax.’ ”
Conservative political advocacy group Americans for Prosperity sent the email out which tagged Grooms and six senators as sponsors of the “Senate tax hike plan” earlier this month. The email references an amendment that no longer exists, Grooms said.
He is not a cosponsor of the current Lourie/Cleary amendment either. It was voted out of the Senate Finance Committee, without Grooms’ vote, to spur the roads debate on the floor where the House bill is on a priority track. It includes a 12-cent gas increase and nearly $400 million in tax relief, phased in over several years. It also made changes to the DOT Commission.
The Coastal Conservation League backs Davis’ filibuster and says some lawmakers, like Senate President Pro Tem Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, have too much control over transportation funding and leadership.
“The power to direct hundreds of millions of transportation dollars belongs solely to a few legislators,” CCL Executive Director Dana Beach said. “The only way our roads will actually be repaired is to withhold additional money until reforms are in place.”