- Associated Press - Monday, September 22, 2014

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - The South Carolina Chamber of Commerce is joining a growing number of lawmakers in both parties who say the state must figure out a way to raise more money for its roads, calling for a combination of tax increases and other sources of revenue.

But they also realize any push must get the backing of the governor to become law next year. And neither major party candidate for governor this November has backed a tax increase of any kind to pay for roads.

At a meeting of business leaders dedicated to improving South Carolina roads, the president of the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce said his organization will back an increase in the state’s gas tax as part of a comprehensive plan to get more money for fixes. A bipartisan panel of legislators also told the South Carolina Alliance to Fix Our Roads on Monday that finding a way through taxes and fees to get more road and bridge funding is a top priority in 2015.

“I think we’ve talked enough. I think it is time to take action,” said Otis Rawl, president of the chamber.

Both business leaders and the state Department of Transportation say the state needs to put a lot of money into its roads and bridges, with estimates ranging from about $1 billion to $1.5 billion a year to get them in good condition.

The chamber conducted a poll of Republican voters that found a majority would support the gas tax increase of one cent a year for 10 years if it was carefully presented. Other ideas mentioned in recent weeks by legislators include increasing the sales tax or raising fees for items such as renewing driver’s licenses.

House Majority Leader Bruce Bannister promised the alliance a bill getting more money to spend on roads will pass next year, and a committee of House and Senate members is already meeting to craft that proposal. But Bannister said he isn’t ready to commit to anything yet and it’s a political reality that the governor will have to back whatever the Legislature does.

“We recognize a veto is a problem,” said Bannister, R-Greenville. “That is a problem we will solve one way or another. Either get the governor on board to do something, or making our plan match what she won’t veto.”

While independent gubernatorial candidate Tom Ervin supports a gas tax increase, neither major party candidate has backed it. Democratic nominee state Sen. Vincent Sheheen said he will listen to all options to get more money for roads.

Gov. Nikki Haley said she will reveal her plan for improving roads in January if she is re-elected. But her spokesman said she still does not support any solution that isn’t revenue neutral.

“There is no question that South Carolina’s infrastructure needs improvement but as Governor Haley has made clear numerous times, raising taxes, legalizing gambling, or secretly increasing fees simply aren’t the kinds of ideas our citizens deserve. Solving this issue will require making tough budget decisions and coming up with new ways to use the tax dollars we already have,” Haley spokesman Doug Mayer said in a statement.

The Alliance to Fix Our Roads also plans to put pressure on lawmakers and the governor through social media. The organization has set up an interactive map on its website, www.fixscroads.com , inviting users to submit pictures, videos or other information roads with the hashtag “scroads” that will be put on what the alliance is calling its “Road Map of Shame.”

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Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP


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