- Associated Press - Saturday, April 18, 2015

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - After a bill to raise more money for South Carolina roads passed the House by a surprisingly big margin, Gov. Nikki Haley and others who want more tax relief or more reform of the agency that handles highway maintenance are trying to figure out their next step.

The bill passed 87-20 - well over the 82 votes needed to assure a two-thirds margin to override any potential veto. It will raise more than $400 million extra yearly for roads by increasing taxes on fuel - an amount that rises if gas prices go up. The bill also cuts the state income tax bill for most taxpayers by $48 in two years and gives the governor the power appoint all members of the Department of Transportation board and to continue to choose a chairwoman.

The bill now moves to the Senate, which has its own roads bill that raises more money - although not everything the DOT has said before that it needs - through a gas tax increase and a number of fees and currently has no income tax relief or DOT reform.

Groups like Americans for Prosperity, who want to see road funds spent smarter by abolishing the DOT’s board before giving the agency any more money, were stunned at the large margin in the House, but vow to keep fighting in the Senate and pushing Haley to veto.

“On the sliding scale of disasters, the Senate bill is worse than the House bill,” said Dave Schwartz, state director of the limited government group.

Schwartz said his group will keep fighting. They held a Statehouse rally earlier this year and are already contacting senators.

But how much of a fight that will take place in the Senate still isn’t known. Sen. Kevin Bryant, R-Anderson, said he and other conservative senators usually against additional spending are aware something must be done to get more money for roads, especially with the pressure being placed on lawmakers from businesses.

Bryant was hoping the House would help by starting with income tax relief closer to the $1.8 billion Haley called for in her State of the State address instead of the $51 million a year in the House bill.

“That’s a big number,” Bryant said of the 87 votes in the House. “I was disappointed the number was so lopsided. I’d like to think we can get more income tax relief in there. Maybe it’s something we can negotiate.”

But others outside of Bryant’s most conservative group of senators seem less interested in a big income tax cut. Senate President Pro Tem Hugh Leatherman has said the state simply can’t afford it and pay for better roads, a sentiment echoed Wednesday on the House floor by House Ways and Means Chairman Brian White.

South Carolina should get more money as the state continues to grow. But some of that money has to be used for additional state employees to serve the new residents, rising health care costs and other expenses, said White, R-Anderson.

“There are a lot of uncertainties. We could have a hurricane - have to pay for that,” White said.

On her Facebook page, Haley posted the roll call for the House votes on roads, reminding her followers that she will veto the bill that passed. Along with the 87 yes votes, several Democratic lawmakers likely to support the proposal didn’t vote Wednesday.

Haley’s spokeswoman wouldn’t specify exactly what the governor plans to do to try to get what she wants out of the Senate or a possible conference committee before the bill lands on her desk.

“The governor never misses an opportunity - whether it’s on social media or in front of local civic groups like Rotary - to communicate directly with the people,” spokeswoman Chaney Adams said in a statement. “She has always valued that direct connection, she believes it’s one of the most important parts of her job, and she’ll continue to educate the people about what’s going on in Columbia the rest of the legislative session.”

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