COLUMBIA -- A Democratic state legislator wants South Carolina to reduce its already-low gas tax by 10 percent, saying his proposal would cut a regressive tax that hits the state's poorest the hardest.
The bill introduced by Rep. Bakari Sellers would reduce the state gas tax from 16 cents a gallon to 14.4 cents a gallon in July.
"It's an opportunity where we can help people through this economic recovery," said Sellers, D-Denmark.
The tax hasn't changed since 1987.
The combined gas tax of 16.75 cents per gallon -- which includes environmental impact and inspection fees -- ranks South Carolina 47th nationwide. California ranks first at 49.3 cents per gallon; Alaska is last at 8 cents, according to an Oct. 1 report by the American Petroleum Institute.
The federal gas tax adds 18.4 cents per gallon.
House Ways and Means Chairman Brian White called the proposal interesting. "I applaud his willingness to lower taxes," said White, R-Anderson.
But he noted the state Department of Transportation depends on the revenue to maintain state roads and bridges, many of which are structurally deficient.
For years, proposals to increase the state's gas tax to improve state roads have gone nowhere in the Republican-controlled Legislature.
In September, Holley Ulbrich, a senior scholar with Clemson University's Jim Self Center on the Future, told a House panel studying tax changes that the 16-cent tax would have to double just to keep up with inflation.
She argued that people driving more fuel-efficient cars would hardly notice an increase phased in over time as gasoline prices rise and fall. But Rep. Tommy Stringer, the Landrum Republican overseeing the panel, dismissed the idea as a nonstarter.
Sellers said his decrease proposal should be part of overall tax reform. Legislators need to make infrastructure a priority and pay for it in the state budget, he said.