Raising the Highway Tax

Raising the Highway Tax

Regular readers of this column will remember this topic as one that was addressed several times before the extraordinary 2016 election season and the nascent Trump Presidency garnered all of our attention. Here are some words from January, 2016. “All of us in Edgefield County,” I wrote then, “regardless of politics and where we stand on many other issues, need to combine to ask our legislators to take action this year, while our economy is robust and while we have an actual surplus in our state budget.

“To point out what is by now a well-known fact, our state highway tax was set at 16 cents a gallon in 1989, and has been there unchanged, for 27 years. Sixteen cents won’t buy today what it did in 1989; 16 cents then would be worth well over 30 cents today. On average, since the 1920’s our gasoline tax has been just under 50 cents a gallon in today’s currency. With our current highway tax stuck at one-third of its historical average, it is no mystery why our roads and bridges have been wearing out more and more each year, without significant improvements or any but emergency repairs.

“After having passed no highway maintenance bill at all last year due to budgetary squabbling, the 2016 legislative session has as one of its first priorities raising the gas tax and using it to fix our roads…. Yes, we need to raise highway taxes now to get started on infrastructure repairs, others say, but only if we balance the ledger by reducing state income tax by the same amount.” I stated then that it would be wrong to cut funding for needed healthcare, poverty programs, or public education to offset increased funding for infrastructure. But the 2016 Legislative Session was a disappointment; Governor Haley promised a veto of any increase in the gasoline tax, and no bill was passed once again last year.

Finally, though, the state government has acted. Just last week the South Carolina Senate approved an increase in the gas tax to fund roads, one that was originally proposed by the House, and they have done so without cutting any of those programs. The two bodies have proposed a 12-cent and a 10-cent increase per gallon respectively, but a compromise that will have enough votes to escape a gubernatorial veto seems assured. Our Republican state Senator and majority leader Shane Massey stated his pleasure that the Senate has finally addressed long-term funding for our roads and bridges, with a plan that one of his Democratic colleagues has called “a viable plan for addressing our state’s long-term infrastructure needs.”

An 11-cent per gallon increase is not enough to meet all of our infrastructure needs. But it shows that progress can actually be made if the Republican leadership works through compromises not only within their own party but also, even more importantly, with those Democrats on the other side of the aisle. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the Republican leadership in the Senate and in the House in Washington could do the same thing!

Robert Scott