Palmetto Sunrise: Roads debate returns, plan possible by Wednesday

This Friday, March 11, 2016 photo shows the Williamson-Johnson Road at the Orangeburg-Aiken county line in Salley, S.C. Transportation officials say 46 percent of the pavement on South Carolina's state roads are in poor condition. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)

COLUMBIA -- The chairman of a House roads ad hoc committee that meets this morning said representatives could hash out changes to a current roads plan as soon as next Wednesday.

Rep. Gary Simrill, R-Rock Hill, whose ad hoc committee developed the original House roads plan the chamber sent to the Senate last April, said testimony given today could shape how House members respond to the $400 million plan the Senate returned last month.

“Is there a pathway to concurrence? We’ll listen to the testimony and once we have digested the comments from the meeting we’ll move forward with the best plan,” Simrill told The Post and Courier on Tuesday.

The panel will hear from S.C. Department of Transportation Secretary Christy Hall, Legislative Audit Council audit manager Brad Hanley, SCDOT Commission Chairman Mike Wooten and S.C. Revenue and Fiscal Affairs director Frank Rainwater.

The LAC released an extensive audit on SCDOT on Tuesday that will be the focus of the meeting.

“The revelations of the audit could very well dictate a different path,” Simrill said. “Speaker Lucas and I met with Sen. Larry Grooms, Sen. Harvey Peeler and Sen. Shane Massey before the break just to talk about the possibility of an amendment versus concurrence. I met with governor’s office and we all agree we wanted to look at the audit report first.”

A sticking point for House members is the need for a better funding source than just the gas tax, something the LAC audit also recommends. The Senate plan would send SCDOT $400 million directly from the state budget every year, regardless of whether there is a surplus like this year or not. A House plan featured an increased fuel tax and fee increases.

Gov. Nikki Haley said there will be time to address the funding situation, but right now the House needs to concur with the Senate bill.

“We have told the House if they will pass this and concur that we will work with them over the summer to get more of a fluid funding stream going forward,” Haley told reporters on Wednesday after a forum on cellphones being smuggled into prison. “But the House has to concur. If the House in any way amends this roads bill they know they’re killing it, they know it’s going to die.”

Any amendment to the bill would have to go back to the Senate--now featuring new leadership--where they’d either accept it or create a conference committee to work out the differences.

“I think the Republican caucus will meet on Tuesday and hopefully we can meet with the Democratic caucus on Tuesday as well and by Wednesday have a plan,” Simrill said.

Today’s headlines:

Gov. Nikki Haley calls attorney general dispute ‘embarrassing mess’ (The Post and Courier)

Anti-gay rights bill similar to North Carolina law filed in South Carolina (The Post and Courier)

Sen. Shane Massey elected by Republicans as new Senate Majority Leader (The Post and Courier)

NC’s GOP lawmakers blame Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts for PayPal loss (The Charlotte Observer)

Senators make little progress on ethics reform despite Gov. Nikki Haley’s call for advancement (The Post and Courier)

Law enforcement officials say the time has come to allow wireless blocking at prisons (The Post and Courier)

Tougher penalties could be on tap for air bag counterfeiters (The Post and Courier)

S.C. Senate approves new rules for releasing dashcam videos (Independent Mail)

Road project opponents to pay hefty fees under proposed SC law (The Sun News)

Nonprofit group files to intervene in S.C. lawsuit against DOE over MOX project (Aiken Standard)

SCSU reports improved finances (The Times and Democrat)

I-85 problems lead to new policy (The Greenville News)

With Legislature split on roads funding, S.C. House committee meets (The Herald)

GOP’s social, fiscal conservatives at odds over gay rights (AP)

Even after Wisconsin win, Ted Cruz struggles to get establishment GOP support (The Washington Post)

Trump Hits Cruz, Embraces New York in First Rally After Wisconsin Loss (Bloomberg)

Clinton, Sanders turn spiky ahead of New York primary (Reuters)

Hundreds of convicted terrorists are already held in U.S. prisons (The New York Times)

U.S. readies bank rule on shell companies amid ‘Panama Papers’ fury (Reuters)

Obama antagonizing business interests on his way out the door (The Washington Post)