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June 1, 2016 9:00 AM, EDT

Verbal Lashing From House Speaker Spurs S.C. Senate to Pass Roads Bill

South Carolina senators late May 31 approved the borrowing of $2 billion for highway construction over a decade and giving the governor more control of the state’s road-repair agency.

The move came after S.C. House Speaker Jay Lucas took to the House floor earlier, blaming the Senate and Gov. Nikki Haley for not passing a proposal to repair the state’s roads.

With only two days left in the legislative session, Lucas said he tried to meet with fellow Republican Haley in the morning on the road-repair deadlock, but she could not meet.

“She believes her time is better spent endorsing opponents of sitting General Assembly members rather than demand the senators across the hall do their job and pass a roads bill,” Lucas said to raucous applause from House members.

Haley is on the road this week endorsing three GOP primary candidates for State House seats, including two challengers to powerful incumbent Republican senators.

Haley’s spokeswoman said House and Senate leaders know where the governor stands on the road-repair issue. “Sometimes, the best way to get something done in Columbia is to elect new people who actually want to serve the public rather than themselves,” Chaney Adams said.

After Lucas’ comments, GOP senators held up a proposal to forgive $12 million in loans owed the state by S.C. State University. The Republicans said the maneuver was an effort to force debate of a roads proposal giving the governor control of the state Transportation Department, a move some Democratic state senators opposed.

That left the sticking point of how much control the governor should have over the Transportation Department.

Senators reached a deal about 10 p.m. that would allow the governor to appoint all eight members of the commission that oversees the Transportation Department. Those appointees would have to be approved by legislators.

Currently, seven Transportation Department commission members are elected by legislative delegations. The governor appoints the eighth member.

“The Senate is the real roadblock for road repair,” Lucas said earlier, noting the Senate had not acted on a bill the House passed last week.

Lucas also faulted Haley, saying the governor had used her bully pulpit throughout the roads-repair-and-reform process but has fallen silent at the 11th hour.

“Her silence proved that she lacks concern for good public policy, public policy that directly impacts the safety of our citizens and the sustainability of our economy,” Lucas said.

The S.C. House can agree with the Senate plan or send it to a six-member conference committee to work out differences between the two road proposals.

A House proposal to increase the state’s gas tax to help pay for road repairs failed in the Senate in March.

Instead, the Senate proposed spending $400 million a year out of the state’s general fund budget on road repairs. Critics said that plan raided the general fund budget, normally spent on state services including education and public safety. That plan also died.

The most recent road-repair proposal to emerge is a bonding plan that the state Transportation Department estimates would pay for more than $4 billion in road-repair projects. Under that 10-year plan, the Transportation Department says nearly 400 bridges would be replaced. Malfunction Junction — the bottleneck of interstates 20 and 26 in Columbia that is the Transportation Department’s No. 1 priority to fix — also would be reworked.