- Associated Press - Friday, April 14, 2017

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Finding a way to fix South Carolina’s crumbling highways will likely dominate the legislative session’s closing days.

Just 12 days remain on the legislative calendar for the General Assembly to compromise on an issue that legislators of both parties called their top priority for the year.

Business leaders are urging legislators to find a reliable, consistent stream of money to address what the Department of Transportation says is a $28 billion problem.

A bill that funds roadwork by increasing the state’s 16-cents-per-gallon gas tax and other fees again faces a filibuster in the Senate.

Sen. Tom Davis, who blocked the last effort, has said he’ll do so again.

The bill up for debate in the Senate would eventually raise an estimated $800 million additional yearly for South Carolina’s highway system - the nation’s fourth-largest with 41,400 miles of roadway. It includes raising the state gas tax - unchanged since 1987 - by 12 cents per gallon over several years.

“I pledge to stand and fight the establishment’s gas-tax hike with every ounce of energy I’ve got - including holding up the Senate all night with another filibuster if that’s what it takes,” Davis, R-Beaufort, said in a recent fundraising email.

While the House’s 97-18 vote last month on its plan represented a veto-proof majority, Gov. Henry McMaster’s pledge last week to veto any gas tax increase made the bill’s prospects in the Senate even dimmer.

McMaster also threatened to veto a bill borrowing $500 million for statewide maintenance, half of which would go to public colleges. He wants to instead borrow up to $1 billion for roads.

College presidents and students are urging McMaster to reconsider.

The Legislature has not passed a bond bill for repairing state facilities since 2001.

The borrowing bill up for debate in the House would allow colleges “to make critical renovations and repairs to facilities that simply cannot keep up with South Carolina’s rapid population growth,” student government presidents of the University of South Carolina, Clemson and the College of Charleston said in a joint letter signed Thursday.

“Failing to make improvements to our schools now will only lead to larger, more extensive, and ultimately more expensive costs farther down the road,” they wrote.

The letter follows a similar one sent to McMaster last week from the presidents of 10 universities and the state’s Technical College System.

“South Carolina cannot risk institutions of higher education falling victim to the same neglect as our roads,” they wrote.

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