Finding a permanent funding stream to repair and upgrade South Carolina’s road system is the top priority of the legislature (as it has been for the last several years). But it’s not the only thing being debated in Columbia. Here’s a brief recap to keep you in the loop!
Gas Tax Hike a “Last Resort”
Gov. Henry McMaster met privately with House Republican legislators and told us he views any hike in the gas tax as a “last resort”. McMaster’s opinion is important because if he were to veto legislation raising the gas tax, it would take a two-thirds vote of the House and Senate to override the veto. Some viewed his remarks as not ruling out a gas tax hike, but merely labeling it a “last resort”. In a letter to President Donald Trump, Gov. McMaster requested that the President include two South Carolina projects in his national infrastructure plan. Emphasizing SC’s unique position as an economic driver in the region, the governor requested an appropriation of $5 billion from the plan to address state-specific infrastructure needs. Additionally, he asked for a $180 million allotment to fulfill the federal share for the deepening of the Charleston port to 52 feet.
Gas Tax / Roads Bill heads to House Floor
A bill raising SC’s gas tax and some other fees to put an additional $600 million a year in the state’s roads is on its way to the House floor. The proposal (H.3516) was unanimously approved by the House Ways and Means Committee. The bill would boost the state’s 16.75-cents-per-gallon gas tax 10-cents over five years and increase the sales tax cap on vehicle purchases from $300 to $500. Other fees are also included. It also would create a $250 one-time fee registration fee for people moving into the state. The bill creates the Infrastructure Maintenance Trust Fund to ensure 100% of revenues go directly (and only) toward fixing our roads and bridges and will not be used for new roads. If this legislation makes it through the House, it will face an uncertain fate in the Senate. You may recall last year, the Senate killed our “Roads Plan”.
Painful Pension Solutions
State government, as well as counties, cities and school districts around the state will likely have to pay more into the state retirement system over the next six years, under a bipartisan proposal recommended by a joint House-Senate study committee. The Joint Committee on Pension Systems Review unanimously recommended the state and its employees should contribute more to the beleaguered pension system, which faces a $20+ billion gap between what it has on hand and what is promised to future retirees. The recommendations will now be introduced in the House and Senate as separate bills. Obviously, we have many state employees in our area and I will be closely watching the bills as they move to the floor for full debate.
Concealed Weapon Permit Expansion
A House sub-committee advanced legislation (H.3240) that would allow concealed weapons permit (CWP) holders in all other states to also carry in SC. Our state currently recognizes concealed weapons permits from 23 other states that have similar requirements to get a permit.
Real ID Legislation Starts Moving
A House committee unanimously approved legislation (H.3358) that would bring SC in compliance with the federal REAL ID Act of 2005. If our state doesn’t comply with the federal requirements, SC’s driver’s licenses and ID cards won’t be accepted to board airplanes or enter federal installations and military bases. SC has had a waiver for more than a decade, but that will likely run out unless legislation is approved. Stay tuned.
Enhanced Government Transparency
Legislation that would significantly enhance the cost and ease to use the SC Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) cleared a final committee vote and heads to the House floor for a vote. This bill (H.3352) enhances those laws and makes compliance easier and cheaper for both government entities and those seeking government documents alike. The pro-transparency measure would streamline the current process used by citizens and the news media seeking access to government documents. After all, government at all levels belongs to you and the FOIA process is intended to ensure the business of the public remains public.
Business License Reform
Current state law allows counties and cities to levy business licensing fees if they operate within those jurisdictions. They collect more than $300 million annually. For years the business community has sought reforms to this structure to reduce the burdens placed on them. This pro-business reform legislation (H.3650) that would allow for a central online registry for business licenses across the state cleared a key House committee and heads to the House floor for a full vote. This is another highly contested bill and Rep Huggins and I have heard from every Irmo Town Council Member as well as the Mayors of both Irmo and Chapin as to the impact locally. Hopefully some sort of “fix” can be found that helps businesses while not impacting our local governments tremendously.
Vet’s Tuition Bill
For the past three legislative sessions the House has passed bills that waive the one-year waiting period for a veteran to attend a SC public college or university so they can pay in-state tuition rates and avoid the costly out-of-state tuition. Each time the bill has died in the Senate. The House is persistent. This week, for a fourth time we passed the bill (H.3035) on a vote of 109-4 and sent it to the Senate.
A bill aimed at attracting investment to SC’s clean energy industry passed the Senate. The Senate voted 38-4 to green light the Renewable Energy Economic Development Bill (S.44) and send it to the House. The bill would allow land that’s currently unused or being used for agriculture to be used as a solar farm, creating tax revenue to counties. If bill becomes law, SC would be on similar footing with neighboring North Carolina and 28 other states that have enacted similar legislation.
These are just some of the topics in Columbia this week. I encourage you to stay informed by visiting my website www.nathansnews.com and letting me know your thoughts or questions about topics important to you and your family!
If I can ever be of service, please let me know.