Dueling advocacy groups amplified their calls for state senators to act on legislation aimed at fixing the state’s crumbling roads and bridges.
On one side, a coalition called for senators to pass legislation to fix the state’s roads and bridges, estimated to cost an added $1.2 billion a year to restore to excellent condition.
Meanwhile, an anti-tax group wants the Senate to kill the road-repair bill. The anti-tax group opposes raising the state’s 16.75-cent-a-gallon gas tax.
Aggravated by the Senate’s inaction, S.C. Chamber of Commerce president Ted Pitts called on state senators Tuesday to return their legislative pay for every day they fail to pass the stalled roads bill.
“In the business community, you don’t get paid if you don’t do your job,” said Pitts, joined by three-dozen representatives of the S.C. Infrastructure Coalition at a State House press conference. “I want every S.C. senator to start returning their paycheck back to the taxpayer on a daily basis for every day they fail to start voting on the amendments on the desk.”
Meanwhile, Dave Schwartz, state director for the limited-government Americans for Prosperity group, called for senators to kill the legislation and start over, blaming lobbyists and politicians for pushing the gas-tax hike.
“Folks across the state are tired of the political ploys and corruption – they want to see real reforms,” he said. “But first, they want to see the gas-tax hike killed this week.”
State Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, accused Americans for Prosperity of pressuring lawmakers, up for re-election this year, to oppose any tax increase to pay for roads.
State Sens. Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg, and Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, have been blocking the legislation from coming to a vote.
Senators are weighing a proposal that would raise the gas tax and other user driving-related fees, and cut income and business taxes. Fully phased in, the proposal would raise about $665 million a year from its tax increases. But, after other parts of the bill fully are phased in, taxpayers would get about $400 million in income and business tax relief.
Supporters of the proposal say out-of-state drivers would pay about 30 percent of the gas-tax increase.
Senators spent much of Tuesday talking about how they were not talking about roads. Three hundred proposed amendments to the roads bill await debate – a sign of just how contentious the debate has grown. The Senate adjourned before getting to the roads bill.
Senate President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman warned senators their constituents think they are blocking roads from being fixed.
Asked whether senators have plans to take a vote that would sit Bright down – or anyone else who filibusters the bill – the Florence Republican said, “I don’t see that on the horizon right now.” Such a move would be “dangerous,” he said, because it would force lawmakers into a rapid-fire, 10-minute debate on each amendment.
“You talk about what could be horrible legislation if we went there. What are we going to get out of that? There is no way under the sun to tell.”
S.C. roads debate
State senators were pressured by advocacy groups Tuesday to act on a languishing roads. A look at who is pushing:
S.C. Infrastructure Coalition – An alliance of business, industry and citizens groups pushing lawmakers to OK a dedicated source of new revenue to pay for repairs to the state’s roads and bridges. The coalition says it represents thousands of businesses and citizens, including the S.C. Chamber of Commerce and local chambers, and agriculture, petroleum, construction, manufacturing and senior-citizens alliances.
Americans for Prosperity South Carolina – The state chapter of a national anti-tax advocacy group, backed by the billionaire political activist Koch brothers, opposes the gas-tax increase. Instead, it wants major changes in the way the state’s road projects are prioritized. The group has placed robocalls in lawmakers’ districts, encouraging citizens to pressure their senators oppose a gas-tax hike.