With 12 days left in the South Carolina legislative session, a nonprofit group took a last-minute leap of faith Saturday when they flew a small plane with a loaded message above the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing golf tournament on Hilton Head Island, where they knew state lawmakers were likely to be.
The plane, towing a sign that read “Fix the damn roads,” was funded by the South Carolina Alliance to Fix Our Roads, a statewide nonprofit organization “made up of business leaders, associations and chambers of commerce who believe that the time to fix our crumbling roads is way overdue,” according to its website.
“We talked about the idea on Friday,” said Bill Ross, president and CEO of the organization. “It was a shot in the dark.”
South Carolina’s 16.75 cents-per-gallon gas tax, which has not been increased in three decades, is the second-lowest in the nation.
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With the Senate set to debate a bill that would increase the state’s gas tax when it returns Tuesday, the tournament on Hilton Head seemed like the perfect opportunity to encourage support for the tax increase, said Jordan Marsh, the organization’s vice president.
“We represent hundreds of thousands of folks, and we wanted (the message) to resonate with lawmakers and represent the people’s sense of urgency,” Marsh said. “That’s why we went with pretty straight-to-the-point language.”
The nonprofit aims for a strong social media presence, but “sometimes you’ve got to put it in (citizens’ and lawmakers’) faces by whatever means possible,” he said.
According to financial records online, the nonprofit’s total revenue in 2015 was about $143,000. Nearly 43 percent of those funds were spent on the organization’s social media campaigns.
The cost of flying the banner-towing plane above the tournament Saturday was about $4,000, Ross said.
“We felt almost desperate to attract some type of attention,” he said. “And knowing that the governor and members of the legislature would probably be (at Heritage), we had to think ‘Would it be worth it?,’ and I think it was.”
The method, though unconventional, achieved its goal by grabbing the attention of spectators and striking a cord with statehouse members.
South Carolina House Majority Leader Gary Simrill was one of those who reacted to the banner by tweeting: “Had to deliver the message by air, due to poor road conditions.”
The House passed a bill last month that would fund roadwork by increasing the state’s gas tax by 10 cents over five years. The Senate Finance Committee amended the bill with changes that include a 12-cent gas tax increase over six years, to raise roughly $800 million annually.
But the bill faces a filibuster by opponents.
Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, who blocked the effort with a filibuster last year, has said he’ll do so again. He further explained his opposition of the tax hike in an op-ed in The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette last month.
“I pledge to stand and fight the establishment’s gas-tax hike with every ounce of energy I’ve got — including holding up the Senate all night with another filibuster if that’s what it takes,” Davis, who represents parts of Beaufort and Jasper counties, said in a recent fundraising email.
Gov. Henry McMaster piled on to the opposition earlier this month by promising to veto bills that would increase the state’s gas tax and borrow money for a backlog of repairs.