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To Raise Gas Tax, South Carolina Lawmakers Override Governor

A proposal to raise the S.C. gas tax will become law after the Legislature Wednesday overrode Gov. Henry McMaster's veto.

By Cassie Cope

A proposal to raise the S.C. gas tax will become law after the Legislature Wednesday overrode Gov. Henry McMaster's veto.

The proposal, which takes effect July 1, will raise the state's gas tax by two cents a year for six years, a total of 12 cents. The bill also will hike other driving fees to raise money to repair the state's crumbling roads.

The state Senate overrode McMaster's veto Wednesday afternoon -- the final step needed -- by a 32-12 vote, exceeding the two-thirds needed.

"Today's bipartisan vote by the Senate to override the governor's veto ensures that our state will have dedicated resources in place to maintain our roads," said Senate President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence.

Earlier Wednesday, the S.C. House voted 95-18, to override McMaster's veto after House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, and other House members lambasted the governor, a fellow Republican.

"He chose to listen, I believe, to campaign consultants, rather than the people," Lucas said, referring to McMaster's veto message.

The new governor is a good man, Lucas added. "I know he wants the best for South Carolina. I believe he will become a good governor -- in time."

However, McMaster has "chosen to place politics over policy" during the roads debate, Lucas said. "The governor has failed to offer one single, viable solution to the state's infrastructure crisis."

Freshman lawmaker Micah Caskey, R-Lexington, said McMaster "chose to remain silent. He chose not to act. He chose not to lead."

Instead, Caskey said, McMaster focused on next year's GOP primary -- typically, a low-turnout contest dominated by anti-tax voters -- and worried about his political career.

The Governor's Office weighed in on the criticism.

"For the governor, this is a simple policy disagreement," said McMaster spokesman Brian Symmes. "He doesn't believe that raising taxes is the best way to address government's inefficiencies."

Before succeeding S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley, who resigned in January to join the Trump Administration, McMaster was silent on whether he supported a gas-tax hike.

As governor, McMaster asked President Donald Trump for $5 billion to pay for road repairs and said raising the gas tax should be a "last resort." Later, McMaster urged lawmakers to borrow up to $1 billion to pay for road repairs, instead of repairing state buildings.

In his veto message, McMaster said a higher gas tax was not the solution, a claim that legislators mocked Wednesday.

"This was the Legislature stepping up where the governor and the past governor (Haley) refused to provide leadership," said state Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Kershaw.

The plan that legislators agreed to earlier this week, after more than two years of debate, will raise about $630 million a year for road repairs. It also includes about $100 million in tax breaks.

(c)2017 The State (Columbia, S.C.)

Caroline Cournoyer is GOVERNING's senior web editor.
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