COLUMBIA, South Carolina — With six days left in the legislative session, senators are at an impasse over the upcoming state budget and how to fix South Carolina's deteriorating roads.
The Senate adjourned Thursday with Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, still filibustering a bill that would spend $85 million that the state is collecting this fiscal year above advisers' earlier estimates. That bill for surplus, one-time spending usually moves in tandem with the state budget. But it's being held up by senators who don't want to raise gas taxes to fund road and bridge work.
A bill doing that is up next for debate.
Adding to the dispute is the potential for legislators to have an additional $400 million to spend in the fiscal year starting July 1.
As of April 30, tax collections were $200 million above the revised expectations, Board of Economic Advisers Chad Walldorf confirmed Thursday. If the three-panel board he leads recognizes that amount at its May 29 meeting, that would mean an additional $200 million in one-time spending and $200 million of recurring money for the budget.
Davis announced the potential windfall during his filibuster as evidence that roadwork can be funded without raising taxes.
But Senate President Pro Tem Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, said that money has nothing to do with road funding. The Department of Transportation needs a reliable funding stream, he said.
"We've got to have recurring money to take care of roads," and even $200 million won't come close to meeting those needs, he said.
The state's highway system is the nation's fourth-largest, funded primarily through the third-lowest gas tax and the federal match money that brings. The DOT has said it needs an additional $1.5 billion yearly over 20 years to bring roads to good condition, though some legislators question that amount.
A House plan passed last month would generate an additional $400 million yearly.
Business leaders filled the Statehouse lobby earlier this week to urge senators to take up and pass a road funding plan. The plan next up for debate would raise an additional $800 million yearly by raising the gas tax by 12 cents — the first increase since 1987. It also would increase the sales tax cap on vehicles, raise license fees and create a fee for alternative-fuel vehicles.
House Ways and Means Chairman Brian White said he will introduce a separate bill on Tuesday spending whatever the economic board recognizes, rather than adding the money to the budget package through the conference committee process, which involves six legislators working out differences between the chambers' plans.
It would be a skeleton bill, awaiting figures from the board, he said.
Its meeting will be just three days before the session is set to end, meaning budget work will almost certainly extend into a special session.
White noted the higher-than-expected revenues would, after seven years, bring the state's tax collections to pre-Great Recession levels.