- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 10, 2015

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Legislation offering two different ways to raise more money for South Carolina roads will be introduced in the House this week, House Majority Leader Bruce Bannister said Tuesday.

The bills released Wednesday will include both Gov. Nikki Haley’s plan to increase the state’s gas tax by 10 cents and reduce income tax rates by 2 percentage points over 10 years and a special House committee’s idea to cut the gas tax while adding a sales tax on fuel, Bannister said after House Republicans met behind closed doors for 90 minutes.

Both plans would raise an additional $400 million a year for highways and bridges.

Haley was invited to the caucus meeting and promoted her plan for more than 30 minutes. As she left, she said only that she had a good meeting.

Bannister said she was received warmly. But he said members decided it was best to put both plans on the table. He had no prediction which one might get more support.

“We’ll see tomorrow what the sponsors look like,” the Republican from Greenville said.

Bannister also said chances are if any road funding bill makes it into law this year, it won’t look anything like what is proposed Wednesday since the Senate has yet to weigh in.

Plenty of competing voices are calling for more money for roads. Business leaders want something done this year. Democrats don’t like Haley’s idea of linking the gas tax increase to an income tax reduction, saying they can’t support a tax swap that would impose a gas tax increase on about 1 million South Carolinians who don’t earn enough to pay personal income tax.

Conservatives rallied at the Statehouse Tuesday saying they can’t support a gas tax increase.

Americans for Prosperity state director Dave Schwartz told a rally of about 70 people that potholes and crumbling bridges make it obvious roads need fixing, but his group can’t be sure lawmakers will spend any extra money from a gas tax increase properly.

“We don’t trust that the money is going to go a specific way,” Schwartz said.

State Treasurer Curtis Loftis was at the rally and mocked a $70 billion long-term DOT plan to spend about 4 percent of additional money on bike lanes and light rail while bringing South Carolina roads to good condition in 25 years.

“We will worry about leisurely strolling down a bike path in 2040,” Loftis said.

Part of the debate centers on how much extra money South Carolina roads need. The DOT report cited by Loftis and approved by the DOT last year said the agency would need $1.5 billion more per year to get the state roads in good condition by 2040. About $3 billion of the $70 billion plan dealt with bike paths and light rail. The DOT would spend about $60 billion on roads if its plan is fully funded.

Recently, DOT Director Janet Oakley and the governor have suggested an extra $400 million a year would be a first step to repair and maintain the state’s most vital roads.


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

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