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Business leaders, legislators celebrate passing of roads bill

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Business leaders and state lawmakers gathered at the Statehouse today to celebrate the passing of the new roads bill set to go into effect July 1. The bill features an increase in the state’s gas of tax 2 cents per gallon per year for the next six years along with several other fees. The tax, which will total 12 cents per gallon, is expected to raise more than $600 million annually once its fully implemented.

“Today is a day for celebration,” Michelin North America CEO Pete Selleck said. “After three years, South Carolina is proud to finally have an infrastructure bill that is the most significant of this type in three decades.”

Selleck told the story of Michelin coming to South Carolina during the 1970s. He said the state was picked because of a strong workforce, the infrastructure would support the business needs of an industrial organization and the government would support business.

“We see that we were right, bipartisan leadership saw a clear need for a plan for the future and they determined to get this done this year,” Selleck said. “I commend the creativity and resilience of our legislature when things got tough.”

Sonoco CEO Jack Sanders said the passing of the bill was a great victory for businesses, but also the people of South Carolina.

“This is a victory for safety, economic development and job creation,” Sanders said.

House Majority Leader Gary Simrill, R-Rock Hill, received the loudest ovation from the gathered revelers, after working on the bill for the past three years.

“This was a team effort, no one person made this happen,” said Simrill, who chaired a House ad hoc panel in that started the legislative process. “It took focus, persistence and courage to do what is right. We knew our infrastructure was lacking and something had to be done. Politically, this is not good, but if we do what’s right, the politics will take care of itself.”

Bipartisan leadership was the overwhelming message offered today as 32 senators and 95 House members came together to get the bill done and put together a super majority on Wednesday to override Gov. Henry McMaster's veto.

State Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Richland, said Secretary of Transportation Christy Hall demonstrated to the House leaders there was competence in at the SCDOT and he looks forward to reforming it for the future.

“She proved we can fund SCDOT, and they can get the job done,” Rutherford said. “I won’t address the elephant (McMaster) in the room, or not in the room, but South Carolina people can know and believe roads will be better, safer and paid for with a sustainable source of income. We have turned a page in South Carolina, and we did it together.”

Rick Todd, president and CEO of S.C. Trucking Association, said in January at a meeting of the S.C. Fix Our Road Alliance that he thought this was the year, but was cautiously optimistic.

“This has been a long time coming,” Todd said after the press conference. “All the stars aligned. We built a large coalition, stuck with the facts, pushed through the rhetoric and made just as much noise as the out of state ‘no’ crowd.”

While the bill is scheduled to take effect July 1, Selleck made sure to temper the expectations of South Carolinians who are quick to judge.

“There will be no instant gratification, it will take many years for funding to ramp up and for DOT to have resources go at faster rate,” Selleck said. “What this bill does is create stabilization of the problem, but it won’t get worse. Years from now our children and grandchildren will look back on 2017 and be extremely grateful on what the government accomplished.”

Reach Travis Boland at 803-726-7543.

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