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SC Gas Tax Flameout: Nikki Haley Rages, “Conservatives” Riled




There was a clear ideological winner in the aftermath of this year’s battle over a proposed gasoline tax hike at the S.C. State House: Palmetto State Taxpayers.  There was also a clear political winner: S.C. Senator Tom Davis, who for the second year in a row successfully stood his ground against this proposed $800 million-a-year tax hike.

The losers?  Legislative leaders, crony capitalists, lobbyists, liberal media, party officials … a.k.a. all of the “powers that be” in Columbia, S.C.

Thanks to Davis’ efforts, the scandal-scarred S.C. Department of Transportation (SCDOT) will be required to make do with what it has … which is a budget that’s doubled over the last six years.  Oh, and add to that another $400 million in annual recurring funding (secured thanks to Davis’ collaboration with S.C. Senate “majority” leader Harvey Peeler).

Eager to take credit for all this, S.C. governor Nikki Haley – who has been wildly inconsistent during the tax hike debate – launched an effort this week to get the S.C. House of Representatives to concur with the Senate’s bill.  Of course this was problematic seeing as the “roads bill” passed by that chamber contained a widely-supported $427 million tax hike.

Would the House insist on raising taxes?  Fortunately, S.C. Speaker of the House Jay Lucas saw the writing on the wall and agreed to cut the tax hike from his chamber’s bill.

So … everybody’s happy, right?

Wrong …

Lucas has made it abundantly clear that he and other House GOP leaders believe the Senate bill is “inartfully drawn.”  As a result they are planning to amend the legislation rather than simply approving it and sending it on to Haley for her signature.

In other words, the bill is not a “done deal” – and House and Senate negotiators will have to iron out a compromise draft prior to resubmitting it to their respective bodies for approval.

That takes time …

Haley – desperate for a quick political victory – was livid over the delay.  In fact she reportedly went to her crony capitalist allies at the S.C. Chamber of Commerce, the S.C. Manufacturers Alliance (SCMA) and the S.C. Business and Industry Political Education Committee (SCBIPEC) – asking them to put pressure on the House to accept the Senate bill so she could claim her public relations victory.

Their response?

“They all declined and decided to just stay silent,” one GOP leader in the House told us.

Wait a minute … isn’t Haley South Carolina’s crony capitalist queen?  Aren’t these captains of corporate bailouts supposed to ask “how high” when she says “jump?”

Yes … which is why Haley grew all the more livid when these big business backers decided to sit on their hands.

Furious at the sleight, Haley abruptly canceled an event the S.C. Chamber had scheduled at the governor’s mansion – reportedly telling the organization to “find another venue.”  She also reportedly canceled another engagement with SCMA.  Finally, Haley was a late scratch at this week’s annual Hibernian Society gathering in Charleston, S.C. – an event organized by the local chamber (and a gathering she trail-blazed just five years ago).

Hell hath no fury, right?

We reached out to these groups in an effort to get their take on Haley’s snubs … but nobody was talking (at least not on the record).  A leader of one of the groups did confirm a recent cancellation from the governor’s office, though, while another offered up an explanation for a cancellation notice his organization received.

“Hardly the first time an event has gotten cancelled,” the source told us.  “Governors have crazy schedules.”

True, but in this case it seems as though Haley – whose national political aspirations have evaporated with the collapse of U.S. Senator Marco Rubio‘s presidential campaign – is once again letting her pettiness get the best of her.

(Which isn’t surprising considering that’s exactly what she did back when she was on top of the world with Rubio).

We’re told Haley’s impotent rage is just the beginning of the drama cascading down on the Palmetto political landscape in the aftermath of the gas tax hike’s spectacular flameout.

“Conservative” groups – most notably Americans for Prosperity (AFP) – are said to be irate that they no longer have a wedge issue to hold over the heads of vulnerable incumbent “Republican” Senators.

“They wanted the tax hike to pass so they could run a campaign against the Senators who voted for it,” one lawmaker told us bluntly.

Wow … seriously?

Meanwhile leaders at the S.C. Policy Council – a libertarian-leaning think tank – are apparently unhappy with the structural reforms contained in the Senate version of the bill.  Specifically, they don’t like that the governor is in charge of appointing a commission to approve projects, they want the governor to simply approve them directly.

Are they right?  Yes.  Is this a huge deal?  Not really … but you’d never know it by the ratcheting up of rhetoric.

“It’s bad enough to see our best shot at reforming the transportation system go down in flames last week,” the group’s leader Ashley Landess wrote last week.  “It’s even worse to hear all the celebrating and self-congratulating by politicians for ‘reforming’ the state’s roads system.”

Ouch …

We’re curious: Is there anybody happy an $800 million gas tax hike got killed?