- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 2, 2016

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Senate Republicans have agreed to a proposal that would send an additional $400 million yearly to South Carolina roads without raising the state’s gas tax, Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler said.

The agreement came late Wednesday night after a day where tempers flared as Republicans who had been filibustering the bill for weeks suddenly cut off debate.

Democrats were angry, but after meeting behind closed doors for an hour, agreed to take up the Republican proposal after being told they could put up some amendments and have a longer debate than might have been allowed under the rules.

“I’ve never seen such disrespect for this body,” Senate Minority Leader Nikki Setzler, D-West Columbia, said as he laid out the agreement on the Senate floor.

Peeler said Republicans felt they had little choice to get the debate going after eight weeks of going nowhere. “Tempers flare,” said Peeler, R-Gaffney, who wants a vote on the bill by next Wednesday.

Along with the extra $400 million for roads to come out of the general state budget, the Republican proposal would allow the governor to appoint all eight members of the Department of Transportation’s board, with seven of them coming from the state’s congressional districts. The Senate would still confirm the nominees.

It also would sharply reduce the power of the State Infrastructure Bank. The body that loans money for large road projects would have to have all its actions approved by the DOT board.

“We have to fix the way we fix roads before we give them more funding,” said Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Charleston.

That was almost everything the Senate’s most conservative members wanted. They filibustered the roads bill in 2015 and again for two weeks this session because they felt there was enough money to send to roads without raising the gas tax.

The roads bill passed by the House last year did raise the sales tax on gas, but also had an income tax cut. The Senate Republican proposal made no mention of tax cuts.

The $400 million raised with the new plan would get the pavement on almost all South Carolina interstates to good condition, fix less than half of the state’s primary roads, reduce the number of deficient bridges by half and help alleviate some congestion, according to previous presentations by DOT Secretary Christy Hall.

But it still falls short of the roughly $1 billion Hall said would allow to widen interstates and take other action to get the almost all the state’s roads back to good condition.

The action took place hours after Gov. Nikki Haley said Senate President Pro Tem Hugh Leatherman was using his position as president of the Senate to hold the roads bill hostage.

“He is holding hostage our roads in the name of power, and that’s one of the worst things you can ever do,” Haley said. “The senators need to get strong and listen to their constituents.”

Leatherman didn’t comment on the governor’s remarks.

Haley’s comments at a news conference Wednesday continued a long-standing feud between the two Republicans. Haley went to a chamber of commerce event in Florence last year and with Leatherman in attendance, blamed him and a few Democratic lawmakers for stopping ethics reform.


Associated Press writer Seanna Adcox contributed to this report.


Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP. His work can be found at https://bigstory.ap.org/content/jeffrey-collins

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