April 4, 2017 5:00 PM, EDT

South Carolina Governor Urges Lawmakers to Borrow Up to $1 Billion for Road Repairs

Jimmy Emerson/Flickr

Promising to veto an increase to the state’s gasoline tax to repair the state’s roads, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster wants lawmakers instead to borrow up to $1 billion to fix the state's crumbling roads.

McMaster, governor since January, urged lawmakers to change a proposed $500 million borrowing plan to instead spend that money — and more — on roads. McMaster, a Republican, made his proposal in a letter April 4 to House Speaker Jay Lucas (R-Darlington).

Lucas responded by saying borrowing money to fix the state’s roads would leave the cost of those repairs solely with South Carolina residents and not capture out-of-state tax dollars, paid by tourists or travelers when they fill up their gas tanks.

“Borrowing more money to fix South Carolina’s roads and bridges will not serve as a permanent solution to our infrastructure crisis,” Lucas said. “The House passed our roads bill with an overwhelming bipartisan and vetoproof majority, which protects the South Carolina taxpayer by providing a sustainable funding stream that requires every motorist to pay their fair share.”

Last year, lawmakers approved borrowing about $2 billion to replace 400 of the state’s deficient bridges and fix some roads.

McMaster’s predecessor, Republican Gov. Nikki Haley, now U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, signed that plan but said it was “not of the magnitude or sustainability” to address the long-term needs of the state’s highway system. Haley also opposed a gas-tax hike unless it was paired with a far larger cut in the state’s income taxes.

Putting $1 billion in borrowed money into road repairs, as McMaster proposes, would cover one year of about $20 billion in repairs that the state Transportation Department has said will be needed over the next two decades.

South Carolina lawmakers have proposed increasing the state’s 16.75 cents-a-gallon gasoline tax and raising other driving fees to pay for road repairs. Only Alaska has a lower gasoline tax than the Palmetto State.

In March, the South Carolina  House approved a 10-cents-a-gallon tax increase. New estimates say that higher gasoline tax would raise about $500 million a year for road repairs.

The state Senate’s budget panel has proposed a 12-cents-a-gallon gas-tax increase and raising other fees. Those proposals would raise about $800 million a year for roads.

Senators are working behind the scenes to add an income-tax cut to the Senate plan in hopes of securing a vetoproof majority in the Senate for a gas-tax increase.

McMaster’s request would strip about $250 million for maintenance and renovations of buildings at South Carolina colleges, including the University of South Carolina, from a proposed House bond bill.

Those building repairs are “very important but not urgent,” McMaster wrote, vowing to veto the bond plan in its current form.

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