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Tom Davis: Another Crack At Gas Tax Filibuster?




South Carolina Senator Tom Davis was spotted entering the S.C. State House complex this afternoon with several large binders – prompting fears among state lawmakers that he might attempt another filibuster of a proposed gas tax increase.

Davis’ has previously brought in binders full of information on the state’s scandal road funding system to help make his point that Palmetto State taxpayers are already shelling out more than enough money on roads and bridges.

And that taxes don’t need to be increased …

Is he correct?  Absolutely …

In 2015 and again last year, Davis successfully blocked proposed gas tax hikes by holding up debate on the bill.

This year, however, Davis’ colleagues voted to “sit him down” and move forward with a massive tax hike.  How big?  According to the compromise plan approved by legislative leaders last week, the state’s gas tax would climb 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 (well, except for West Virginia and Mississippi).

Once the tax hike and its accompanying fees are fully implemented – at a cost of roughly $1.8 billion – the legislation will impose an annual $600 million obligation on taxpayers.

These increases come at a time when taxpayers have been forced to shell out an additional $826 million annually to cover yet another government-managed disaster – the state’s money-losing pension fund.

Good government?  Not hardly …

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The compromise does contain a rebate provision for South Carolina drivers (money that comes from a $250 out-of-state vehicle registration fee), property tax relief for manufacturers (most of whom are already benefiting from crony capitalist tax breaks) and an expansion of tax credits for higher education scholarships.

All told, these tax breaks total an estimated $186 million on an annual basis – once they are fully phased-in (and assuming they fully materialize).  That’s obviously nowhere near enough money to offset the massive increase in taxes and fees contemplated by this new legislation, though.

The compromise bill also fails to truly reform the Palmetto State’s road funding mechanism – or the various state agencies that administer it.

Accordingly we oppose this compromise – and would support Davis in the event he decided to take another crack at blocking it (although we’d understand if Davis declined to try and filibuster the bill once more, having already tried previously and been defeated).

Whatever Davis decided to do, here’s the reality: South Carolina’s “leaders” are simply pouring more money into a system that has demonstrably failed to prioritize projects – and which is demonstrably corrupt in its administration.  Also, as Davis pointed out last month, many of the road repairs being whined about by liberal lawmakers this year were funded a year ago via a $400 million borrowing bill approved last session in lieu of a tax increase.

For those of you keeping score at home, GOP lawmakers have more than doubled the S.C. Department of Transportation (SCDOT)’s base budget over the last seven years.  On top of that, they’ve approved hundreds of millions of dollars in new (and likely unconstitutional) borrowing for transportation projects.

Has this mountain of money “fixed our roads?”  No.  Not even close.

As we’ve pointed out ad nauseam, things are arguably worse than ever – and lawmakers have utterly failed to rein in rampant corruption and incompetence at the agency.

In addition to all the new spending and borrowing, taxpayers are sending more than $1 billion in new money to Columbia, S.C. for the upcoming 2017-2018 budget.  Is that not enough?  Also, lawmakers had plenty of revenue alternatives to consider before raising the gas tax.  Why did they fail to explore those options?  Were the constituencies impacted by those alternatives more important to them than Palmetto State taxpayers?

Clearly …

If he decides to filibuster, Davis has two bites at the apple.  First, he could try and block Senators from extending “free conference powers” – a required two-thirds vote that initiates debate on the amended gas tax bill.  Second, he could attempt to filibuster a vote on the amended bill itself.

Are the numbers there to support him?  It’s unclear … but as we noted in our prior coverage of this compromise it certainly appears as though the skids are greased to advance this legislation to the desk of governor Henry McMaster with a veto-proof majority (i.e. more than two-thirds of both chambers).

That would make McMaster’s pledge to strike down the bill effectively meaningless – which honestly may have been part of the plan all along.

All we know is this: Like prior budget increases and borrowing in the past, this tax hike is not going to “fix South Carolina’s roads.”  What will do?  Make the cost of failing to do so higher than ever … at which point we fully suspect lawmakers will come back and insist upon still more money from taxpayers.

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