Palmetto Sunrise: Transportation debate (finally) set in Senate, compromise sputtering

Road construction is up for debate in the Senate. File.

The good news for those who want to see a debate on how to fix South Carolina’s roads: it looks like the sloth-like Senate will have one. The bad news: it’s unclear whether even a compromise plan has a chance.

At least one Senate Republican who stood at a press conference to get behind a plan is having second thoughts. Sen. Tom Davis took to Facebook to question the need for a gas tax hike, part of a compromise proposal cobbled together by the Senate Majority Caucus. Davis didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment late Tuesday.

“The drumbeat in Columbia for a massive gas-tax increase in SC is now deafening; all the major lobbying groups are crying in a single chorus: ‘Higher taxes to fix our roads!’” Davis wrote on his Facebook page. “Enough. No more talk about increasing gas taxes. We already take enough money from South Carolinians to do the job; we just lack the political will to spend it wisely.”

It remains to be seen whether other Republicans will follow Davis’s lead in breaking ranks. The caucus plan is seen as a compromise to an original one pushed by Sens. Ray Cleary and Hugh Leatherman that would raise the gas tax and other fees with no income tax cut, a requirement laid out by Gov. Nikki Haley to win her support.

The compromise plan would increase the gas tax by 4 cents a gallon every year for three years for a total increase of 12 cents per gallon, raising $400 million initially and eventually $800 million. Increases after that would be tied to inflation with a cap so that South Carolina did not have a higher gas tax than neighbors Georgia and North Carolina.

The governor would get the income tax cut and the control of the Department of Transportation she has demanded.

Haley had sought a 2 percent cut in the income tax, from 7 percent to 5 percent in the highest bracket over 10 years. The Senate GOP plan cuts it 1 percent over five years, costing the state about $700 million. The cuts could be delayed if economic growth slows.

The Senate is also expected to debate an abortion bill in the coming days.

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