Governor’s income tax cut sidelines roads funding plans

The South Carolina Statehouse

COLUMBIA — Attempts to marry two competing roads plans have failed so far in the South Carolina House, delaying efforts to come up with a plan to fund the state’s decaying roads and bridges.

Two bills filed in the House calling for changes to the way South Carolina taxes drivers have taken a back seat, as House members chip away at writing the state’s $7 billion budget, which is expected to hit the floor the second week of March.

That means that the road bills will be discussed at the committee level, but it’s unlikely that they’ll make it to the floor for discussion until after the House passes the budget. That delay concerns Rep. Russell Ott, D-St. Matthews, a member of the ad hoc committee that spent nearly six months studying fixes for the state’s roads and bridges.

“I think that roads should be priority,” said Ott, adding that it’s the No. 1 concern for his constituents. “I don’t want it to lose momentum. People need to keep talking about these things.”

Ott said attempts to accommodate the governor’s income tax, road-funding proposal are to blame for the delays. He added he still hopes a measure will pass the House this year, but those chances drop as the longer it takes for the House to discuss them.

Gov. Nikki Haley’s road plan calls for raising the tax on gasoline by 10 cents a gallon over three years while reducing the state income tax from 7 percent to 5 percent over 10 years. It also calls for restructuring the Department of Transportation.

Rep. Gary Simrill, R-Rock Hill, who introduced the committee’s proposal as a bill, said he doesn’t see less of a momentum for roads.

The issue is still “very important,” he said, adding that he would’ve preferred if the issue had been taken up before the budget became a priority.

The bill introduced by Simrill calls for a reduction of the state’s 16.75-cent-per-gallon gas tax with an increase in the sales tax on gasoline at the wholesale level. It will have a ceiling to protect South Carolinians from fluctuating gas prices and would phase in turning over ownership and maintenance of state-owned roads to counties, if they so choose. And it also calls for changes at DOT.

But the committee was responsible for infrastructure reform and funding, not tax reform, Simrill said.

“There are many more things in our bills that are alike than there are different,” Simrill said. “The difference is that hers has an income tax component to it. After her State of the State, we set out to see if those two could be merged, and at the end of the day we could not come to an agreement on the income tax portion of it. So you have two bills and the merits of those two bills will be debated in subcommittee.”

Reach Cynthia Roldan at 708-5891.