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Weeks Three and Four from the State House
On January 27, the House Transportation Infrastructure and Management Ad Hoc Committee met for a final time with Chairman Gary Simrill releasing his recommendations for the framework of legislation which included four points:
• Restructuring of the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT)
• Restructuring of the State Transportation Infrastructure Bank (STIB)
• Transferring State roads to the Counties
• Developing infrastructure funding mechanisms
In Simrill’s Plan, SCDOT Commissioners will have a 12 year maximum term and be appointed by the Governor with the advice and consent of the Senate. The STIB will expand to 13 members, consisting of the seven SCDOT Commissioners, three appointments by the Speaker of the House and three appointments by the Senate President with 12 year maximum terms. Currently the STIB will only consider projects that cost $100 million or higher, but in Simrill’s proposal the threshold is lowered to $25 million with prioritization criteria set by SCDOT.
Representative Simrill recommended the transition of some 18,000 miles of state maintained roads to the counties. This would be completed in three phases, with maintenance of 6000 miles of roads being transferred each time in 2016, 2018 and 2020. County funding will go from 2.66 to 4.5 cents allowing a $46 million increase with each county receiving $1 million in 2016. In 2018 C-funds increase from 4.5 cents to 5.25 cents and again in 2020 from 5.25 to 6 cents. With each increase the counties will each receive a flat $1 million with the remaining funds distributed based on the existing formula.
The funding portion of Simrill’s plan would remove the sales tax exemption on fuel, adding a 6% state sales tax on motor fuel and indexing the sales tax. This corresponds with decreasing the 16.75 cent motor fuel user fee to 10.75 cents per gallon. All auto sales tax revenues will be funneled to SCDOT and the auto sales tax will increase from $300 to $500.
This means, depending on the price of gas, this plan should generate an additional $325-$385 million per year to the SCDOT.
Many committee members had some issues, most of them centering on the transfer of roads from SCDOT to the counties. However, everyone agreed that a plan was needed to get the ball rolling. Even Chairman Simrill stated that this is merely a beginning point to get legislation written and he fully expects many changes in the House Ways and Means sub and full committees as legislation moves forward.
The Chamber continues to actively lobby Governor Haley and the legislators on the importance of finding a fully funded revenue stream to solve the $1.5 billion a year problem. George Ramsey hand delivered letters from the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors urging the Governor to support a fully funded solution for our states decaying infrastructure.
On January 29, the South Carolina Public Safety Commission temporarily lifted the cease and desist order issued against Uber drivers earlier this month. This allows Uber to operate in South Carolina until the end of June when legislation should be in place setting regulations for ridesharing companies. Representative Leon Stavrinakis has filed bi-partisan legislation to make Uber legal in South Carolina.
Earlier that week, Charleston Young Professionals met with City Councilman Bill Moody to discuss the issues council had with the ridesharing companies and how both CYP and the City of Charleston can work together to address the issue moving forward and ensure that some type of regulation is created.
During the first week of February there was little movement in the South Carolina State House concerning infrastructure funding. Governor Haley continues to lobby for her tax swap plan with opposition mounting from the democrats in both the House and Senate caucuses.
Following adjournment on Thursday, Representative Gary Simrill met with House members to go over the details of his roads plan. Again, most of the concerns centered on the transferring of some 18,000 miles of roads from the state to the counties. Simrill addressed those concerns revising the legislation to make it an option for the counties to receive the roads, in hopes the counties will opt-in, receive their first allotment and increase in C-funds. Simrill plans on the legislation being ready this week and the bill will go before the House Ways and Means Committee.
Meanwhile, the South Carolina Senate continues to be mired down in debate of the ethics reform bill with no end in sight.