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Gov. Haley Calls for Additional Revenues Toward Roads

Mon March 04, 2013 - Southeast Edition

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) Gov. Nikki Haley called on legislators Feb. 14 to put additional revenue toward fixing South Carolina’s roads and bridges.

Haley’s news conference in front of road construction equipment came a day before the state’s economic advisers were set to revise their revenue projections.

Haley predicts they’ll increase estimates by more than $100 million.

Haley’s executive budget proposal uses November estimates. The House budget-writing committee will use the new numbers as its members put together their 2013-14 budget proposal. A final revenue estimate comes in May, in time for the Senate to put together its plan. Haley expects an even bigger projection for state coffers then — what she refers to as the “money tree.’’

Haley wants $26 million taken off the top of additional revenues for income tax cuts and the rest to go toward infrastructure, saying crumbling roads and bridges hurt economic development.

“At some point it will stop,’’ she said about job announcements, “if we don’t do something about this.’’

Haley reiterated her opposition to raising the state’s 16-cents-per-gallon gas tax, unchanged since 1987.

“This is the way to do it,’’ she said about her plan, repeating her budget plan and what she touted in her State of the State address. “I’m giving them a solution without having to raise one single penny.’’

But her plan funds a tiny fraction of the need.

The Department of Transportation estimates it needs nearly double the amount currently spent on state-maintained roads — $1.5 billion yearly over the next 20 years — just to bring them to “good’’ condition.

Business and community leaders statewide put out a plan that pares that down. They urge legislators to spend $6 billion over the next 10 to 15 years on the most critical projects statewide: $2.8 billion on interstate widening, $2 billion on bridges and $1.2 billion on resurfacing.

Still, that’s $600 million a year to get it done in a decade.

“Any bit of money we can get to repair the system is welcome,’’ said DOT Director Robert St. Onge.

South Carolina’s highway system includes nearly 41,500 highway miles and 8,400 bridges, making South Carolina’s system the nation’s fourth-largest, funded in part by the fourth-lowest state tax. Of the $1.5 billion the DOT expects to collect next fiscal year, 60 percent comes from federal taxes.

Of those nearly 8,400 bridges, seven are closed, 420 have weight restrictions for crossing, and nearly 900 are rated in poor condition.

“We don’t need to wait until one of those 421 bridges falls apart,’’ Haley said.

The leaders of the state Chamber of Commerce and state Manufacturers Alliance praised Haley for making infrastructure a priority.

Otis Rawl of the state chamber called Haley’s plan a good first step.

Other than using most of additional revenue for infrastructure, Haley recommends in her budget re-directing $4.3 million of fuel taxes currently diverted to other agencies and using $10 million of capital reserves for road work.

Asked why she advocates taking $26 million off the top for income tax cuts if road work is so critical, Haley responded there’s no reason the Legislature can’t do both.

A bill sponsored by House Speaker Bobby Harrell would shift roughly $100 million collected through the state sales tax on vehicles — which is capped at $300 — specifically to road work. But that idea has previously died in the Senate, with opponents saying it takes money from other needs.

Haley applauded that House GOP bill as something to do in addition to her plan.

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