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Senate Looks at Raising Gas Tax for Roads Tuesday

A bill that includes a plan to raise the gas tax for the first time in 30 years is headed to the South Carolina Senate Tuesday. 

"A lot of the roads need repairs and you have to have money coming in from somewhere," said Joann Heath

Whether that money should come from a gas tax is up for debate in Columbia this week.

"You can't get a silk purse out of a sow's ear. Right now, we're collecting a sow's ear at the pump and we're getting a sow's ear in return and that's very unfortunate for the residents of South Carolina and those that travel our roadways," said Rep. Gary Simrill (R-Rock Hill)

Rep. Simrill has championed for an increase in the gas tax to provide a stable revenue source for road repairs. The latest bill passed the House with a 97-18 vote last month. The measure received bipartisan support but the legislature has been down this road before.

"This has been a three-year process," Simrill admitted.

Past attempts to raise the gas tax failed or ended with compromises that provided short-term funding through bond measures. Simrill says he believes the momentum has shifted in support of a gas tax increase.

"It's just a matter of getting this bill across the finish line and the senate to do their work," he said.

Sen Wes Climer (R-York) says the bill doesn't go far enough to reform the state's Department of Transportation, which he says has a track record of rerouting funds to areas other than road repair.

"The bill that is before the Senate tomorrow is just a straight-up gas tax increase with no reform," Climer said. "I can't vote for that. It's time to get serious about reform and making this a better bill for low-income South Carolinians that will get penalized by a higher gas tax."

Harry, a driver from Sumter that was passing through Rock Hill, is suspicious of a gas tax increase.  

"If they use it for fixing the roads and set it aside for that particular purpose, that would be good because the words are pretty bad," he said.

The bill calls for a $.02 increase on the gas tax each year for the next five years. Only oil-producing Alaska has a lower gas tax than the Palmetto State, where the rate has remained unchanged for three decades.  

Governor McMaster has promised to veto any bill that would raise the gas tax. There is currently enough support in the House to override his veto, but 30 Senators would have to give the green light for the bill to move forward.

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