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Gas Tax “Compromise” Clears SC Senate




By an overwhelming (and veto-proof) majority, the so-called “Republican” South Carolina Senate cleared a compromise gas tax increase through their chamber on Monday.  That means this massive tax increase – one of the largest in the history of the Palmetto State – is now just one vote away from landing on the desk of a governor whose veto threat appears to have been rendered irrelevant.

“It will definitely be veto-proof in the House,” one Democratic member of that chamber told us on the heels of the Senate vote.

In other words S.C. governor Henry McMaster’s vow to kick this bill back to lawmakers is no longer meaningful – unless of course McMaster were to make it clear that he planned on using his bully pulpit to call out (and campaign against) those liberal GOP lawmakers who voted for the tax hike.

Will he do that?  We doubt it … in fact our guess is McMaster is privately relieved that lawmakers have mustered margins big enough to override him.

As noted in our previous coverage, this compromise bill raises the state’s gas tax from 16.75 cents per gallon to 28.75 cents per gallon over six years.  That’s a whopping 71 percent tax increase – one that will directly hit Palmetto state motorists who already pay a far greater percentage of their anemic incomes on fuel than residents of virtually every other state (except for West Virginia and Mississippi, that is).

All told, this legislation will drain roughly $1.8 billion from motorists over its first five years of implementation and around $600 million each (and every) year thereafter.  These increases will come on the heels of South Carolina taxpayers being forced to shell out an additional $826 million annually to cover the cost of yet another government-managed disaster – the state’s money-losing pension fund.

(McMaster signed that bill, incidentally).

The tax hikes come after huge budget increases for infrastructure over the last seven years – and a $400 million borrowing bill for roads passed just last year.

Also, lawmakers are raising taxes on South Carolinians despite having been given an additional $1 billion to work with in the budget for the coming fiscal year, which begins on July 1.

Nothing’s ever enough, is it?

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On a positive note the compromise proposal does include an estimated $186 million in annual tax relief, once its tax breaks are fully phased-in (and assuming they fully materialize).  Obviously that’s nowhere near enough money to offset the massive increases in taxes and fees contemplated by this new legislation, though.

In addition to its drain on the state’s private sector, this “roads reform” proposal also fails to fix the state’s scandal-scarred state Department of Transportation (SCDOT) and its partner-in-crime, the S.C. Transportation Infrastructure Bank (STIB).  These two agencies have been among the most corrupt, mismanaged bureaucracies in the state – which is saying something, if you ask us.

Nonetheless, the tax hike received the support of Democrats and a majority of “Republicans” in the Senate, passing by a 32-12 margin.

Here’s the roll call vote in support of the tax hike …

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That’s a profoundly disappointing vote … one indicative of Senators who know they won’t have to face voters again for another three years.  Also disappointing?  The disingenuous rhetoric employed by these liberal “Republicans” in championing this tax hike.

S.C. Senator Paul Campbell in particular vowed that every penny of revenue collected by this tax hike would go toward fixing existing roads – and that the bill would reduce the state’s reliance on borrowing to fund road repairs.  His arguments were shredded by S.C. Senator Tom Davis, who mounted another impassioned filibuster against the tax hike.

Citing a recent report from the S.C. Legislative Audit Council (SCLAC), Davis documented how the compromise bill actually siphoned money from long-overdue maintenance and resurfacing projects and routes it into unnecessary new construction projects – all while dramatically elevating the state’s growing debt.

A handful of fiscally conservative State Senators – led by Shane Martin of Spartanburg and Tom Corbin of Greenville – rallied their colleagues to support Davis’ filibuster in the hopes of preventing the Senate from voting on the massive tax hike.  Unfortunately, those efforts failed by a 24-20 margin – allowing the tax hike to proceed.

Here’s that roll call vote …

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This website has fought for the last three years against various iterations of this tax hike – writing literally hundreds of articles explaining why it is absolutely terrible public policy on a whole host of different levels.

Sadly, the die now appears to be cast.

Liberal “Republicans” – led by S.C. Senator Hugh Leatherman – have once again succeeded in transferring the cost of their corruption and poor prioritization to the people who can least afford it.  Their regressive tax hike isn’t going to fix our state’s roads, but it will make the cost of their ongoing failure to fix them bigger than ever.

Banner via Travis Bell Photography