Chamber leaders from the Upstate used a Friday morning press conference to advocate the passage of a roads bill still sitting in the S.C. Senate.
On Friday, chamber leaders in the Upstate urged the Senate to vote on the bill.
“We have heard from our businesses and organizations, just as senators have heard from their constituents, and the message is clear: the time is now, and 2017 is the year, to finish the job on roads and bridges,” said Carlos Phillips, president and CEO of the Greenville Chamber of Commerce. “The longer we delay, the more we will pay.”
The bill failed to clear a vote in the Senate that would have placed it on “special orders” or a priority position on the calendar meaning the measure remains on the floor. The Senate adjourned on Thursday for the weekend and Ted Pitts, president and CEO of the S.C. Chamber of Commerce, blasted senators for its “inaction” on the roads bill.
“Senators should follow the House’s lead and work together to find a compromise that gets a super majority support. With only nine legislative days left this session, we’re still hopeful that senators pass a long-term funding solution for infrastructure,” Pitts said, in a statement.
During an event in Greenville in March, S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster shot down any bill that raised taxes saying that roads were a priority, but funding improvements was the issue. He said raising taxes was not the solution to infrastructure improvements.
He added the state will have over $630 million come in from the gas tax in the next fiscal year, but not all of it will go to road improvements. He said between the revenues expected with the gas tax as it stands currently, coupled with a general fund surplus expected and federal funding, there was “a lot of money in the state.”
The bill passed out of the House would generate an estimated $885 million annually from the gas tax and other fees. However, the issues remained with some Republicans in the Senate that there were no corresponding tax cuts to balance out the increase in vehicle fees and hike in gas tax. Additionally, the Senate Finance Committee stripped out language reforming the state transportation structure.
Jason Zacher, executive director of the Upstate Chamber Coalition, said despite the inaction from the Senate this week, he is still confident the bill will be done before the session ends.
“We are closer than we have ever been on this and I think we have a good shot at getting it done,” Zacher said. “I fail to see how anyone in the Senate can say they need to get it done then leave without getting it done.”
That may include provisions to modify the S.C. Department of Transportation — provisions initially included in the House bill, but stripped out in committee once it reached the Senate.
“Based on the conversations we’ve been having, getting some sort of DOT reform package is possible,” Zacher said. “Everyone understands that we have to get the 30 votes. There are those that want DOT reform and those that want funding but there are a number of amendments on the desk, but we don’t know what those look like.”
That reform could take the shape of creating a Department of Health and Environmental Control board structure where seven members are appointed from each Congressional district and the chairperson appointed at large by the Governor. That language was part of the initial House bill and even included an “advise and consent” for the General Assembly regarding each of the appointments, but it was all taken out by the Senate Finance Committee.
The challenge in the Senate, according to Zacher, is finding those 30 votes needed to override any veto McMaster may exercise over the bill.
“I don’t see how there can be 23 or 24 senators vote for this and commit to getting something done, but not get something done,” Zacher said. “The time for talk is over and it is time for action.
“Everyone knows the roads are a problem and there needs to be a solution and that DOT needs resources. I just can’t believe things wouldn’t get done over a few nit-picky details.”