- Associated Press - Thursday, June 4, 2015

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - South Carolina’s legislative session drew to a close Thursday without a state budget and with most of lawmakers’ priority issues left undone.

Lawmakers of both parties called it a disappointing session, particularly since the effort to fix South Carolina’s roads and bridges collapsed in the Senate.

“I’m extremely disappointed. The biggest issue to the people of South Carolina is roads - the condition, the potholes, the backups, the deplorable condition of the interstates, and that issue is not resolved,” said Senate Minority Leader Nikki Setzler, D-West Columbia.

State law required the regular session to end at 5 p.m. Thursday.

Lawmakers return for a special, three-day session June 16. A second special session is a near-certainty. But their work is limited to the state budget and bills that have passed both chambers with differences that can be worked out in six-member conference committees.

Measures that didn’t make it to such a compromise committee are dead for the year. Debate will resume in January wherever in the process they currently sit. That includes a bill that would raise money for road and bridge construction. The state Department of Transportation has said it needs an additional $1.5 billion yearly over two decades to bring the nation’s fourth-largest roads system to good condition, though many lawmakers question that dollar figure.

The House passed a bill in April that would raise $400 million. A Senate proposal would roughly double that through a combination of increases in the gas tax, sales tax on vehicles, and license fees, as well a new fee on alternative-fuel vehicles. But opponents of increasing the gas tax have blocked votes in the Senate.

For the last two weeks, Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, filibustered a component of the Senate’s budget package to prevent debate on the roads bill, which is next up on special-order status on the calendar. He officially held up the “capital reserve bill” that would spend $85 million of surplus that came into state coffers above original projections.

Meanwhile, the state’s economic advisers recognized last Friday an additional $415 million in revenues above previous expectations, some of which by law must go toward tax relief and education. The Legislature has full discretion of roughly $300 million.

The House Ways and Means Committee on Monday unanimously advanced a supplemental budget bill that would distribute $150 million of that to counties to repair state roads in their area that don’t qualify for federal match money. Such secondary roads account for half of the state highway system’s 41,415 miles.

Davis wants more of the surplus money to go toward roads, “because that’s our most pressing need,” he said after the session ended.

He called his filibuster “a win for the people of South Carolina,” as it meant taxes did not increase and forced discussions about reform. He believes roads should be funded through revenue growth alone, while other legislators contend roads need a dedicated, reliable funding stream.

The House is expected to take up the supplemental budget bill at the start of the special session.

House members said they worried it too will be blocked in the Senate, leaving hundreds of millions of dollars on the table until January that could go to critical needs.

But Davis said he’s done blocking revenue bills and expects both the capital reserve and supplemental bills to pass in the special session, as well as the budget for the fiscal year starting July 1.

“There’s been sufficient debate in regard to what needs are,” Davis said. “It’s just a question of how much of that surplus money does the Senate and House dedicate to roads and bridges?”

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