COLUMBIA, South Carolina — A month into the legislative session, state senators are no closer to finding a way to fix South Carolina's crumbling roads, but they spent hours Thursday arguing over their inability to officially debate the issue.
Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler criticized his colleagues for "dilly-dallying" on the public's top priority.
"I have absolutely lost my patience when it comes to this infrastructure debate that we are not having," said Peeler, R-Gaffney. "It's past time. Every day, there are more potholes in my area."
A bill that raises roughly $800 million additionally yearly for roadwork through increases in gas taxes, vehicle sales taxes and license fees is in special debate status on the Senate calendar — where it's been since the session ended last year amid a filibuster that blocked a vote.
"We've been dilly-dallying and slow-walking for four weeks. ... Everything's blocked by this bill in interrupted debate," Peeler said. "Our calendar's swelling like it's got a peanut allergy, and nothing's getting done."
His comments prompted a debate for more than two hours on what's blocking progress.
Peeler said whatever the Senate passes must provide revenue, relief, and reform.
That's because Gov. Nikki Haley has pledged to veto any legislation that increases gas taxes unless it also drastically cuts income taxes and restructures the Department of Transportation.
Democrats argue it's folly to link the three issues in one bill.
"We can debate income tax reform, but let's get the roads fixed. Tying them together will prolong it tremendously," said Sen. Creighton Coleman, D-Winnsboro. "Let's put politics aside and do what's right."
Despite the discussion, floor debate won't start until Feb. 16 at the earliest.
In meetings next week, the Senate Finance Committee will hear from leaders of the DOT and the state Infrastructure Bank.
Senate President Pro Tem Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, said he wants senators to hear from the agencies before floor debate, when potentially inaccurate information will be tossed about.
Sen. Shane Massey, who doesn't sit on the Finance Committee, said whatever's discussed in that committee won't matter. It just means the Senate won't accomplish anything next week either, he said.
"It's all going to be rehashed completely on the floor," said Massey, R-Edgefield. "Y'all are wasting my time, and I'm ticked off about it."