COLUMBIA, SC – With Tuesday’s House vote looming on HB 3516 – a bill that would raise the state gas tax 10 cents over time and increase car tax from $300 to $500 in order to pay for South Carolina’s crumbling roads – state education officials are pushing back, requesting an amendment.
The South Carolina School Board Association says the bill would eliminate $37.6 million from the Education Improvement Act and shift it to pay for roads. They say the cuts would essentially eliminate tech based programs and others focusing on at-risk youth and literacy. They are asking parents to call their local representatives by Tuesday at 11:30 am, ahead of the vote, requesting changes be made to protect money currently slated for these student programs.
“Even at current levels, education is not being funded at the limit that state law sets, so I think the hope is that this would be something that – while we know a solution needs to be found – taking the money from education – is not one that we hope that they will choose,” said Beth Brotherton, spokesperson for Greenville County School District.
Business leaders across 12 Upstate counties , operating as one under the Upstate Chamber Coalition, have widely supported the bill, considering this a “last resort” to fixing infrastructure before it alienates current and potential investors from doing business here.
“The Upstate is at a great crossroads with 85 and 26. We have about 100 million customers within a days drive. If we don’t pay attention to our roads, that advantage is going to become a major disadvantage for us,” said Jason Zacher with the Greenville Chamber.
Zacher says they are sympathetic to school programs and feels that amendments will be in place to protect programs funded through the Education Improvement Act.
“It is about 38 million dollars and, in the grand scheme of the state budget, that’s not a huge amount of money, so I think this is something that can be solved pretty quickly,” said Zacher.
South Carolina’s gas tax is currently the second lowest in the country, just behind Alaska, which recently voted to triple their gas tax.
“Low taxes are something we tout when trying to recruit businesses, but sometimes when taxes are so low, it’s affecting basic services,” said Zacher “With the gas tax, you’re getting what you pay for with the roads in their shape. We need to get them improved now.”
A veto-proof majority, even with amendments, is expected out of Tuesday’s house vote, which would fall in line with a similar vote in the House two years ago. Zacher said, while he doesn’t know what the Senate will do once it would pass into their chambers, their similar bill is gaining enough traction to make him believe it could make it to the Governors desk as early as May.
“The gas tax, in a way, is a really good tax for South Carolinians, just because a third of the folks who are traveling here are traveling through from other states, so this is a really good plan for us,” said Zacher.