Nathan Ballentine

This week it came as no surprise to my colleagues and me to see the U.S. Senate confirm my friend and former Governor, Nikki Haley, to serve as Ambassador to the United Nations in New York, NY. Upon her resignation, Governor McMaster was sworn in at around 6:30 pm on Tuesday evening, making him the 117thGovernor of South Carolina.

Many in the House and Senate gave high praise to Governor McMaster on both his leadership style and his willingness to build consensus in Columbia. In one of his first moves, Governor McMaster picked Trey Walker to be his Chief of Staff. Trey, Ali and their children live right here in our community and give tirelessly to our schools, businesses and civic organizations in the area. This role is not new for Trey as he previously has served as Chief of Staff for Governor Haley as well as worked with McMaster in previous roles for our state and country.

Soon, the McMaster administration will work on their priorities and policies to continue moving our state forward. One of the most important priorities will be infrastructure. On that note, legislation has been filed in both the House and Senate to fix our broken roadways and bridges. I’ve heard from so many of you about the importance of fixing our roads and bridges and we made the initial step in that process this week.

The most sobering reality in our state today is that people are dying on our roadways and we can prevent much of it. Our state is once again on the wrong end of a national 50-state listing. We lead the nation in traffic fatalities, a sad fact attributed in part to the dilapidated state of our road systems. South Carolina has seen an increase in traffic fatalities of 27 percent in just the past 3 years alone.

The effort to develop a long-term sustainable solution to fix our dangerous infrastructure began 3 years ago in 2014. A bi-partisan committee developed a proposal utilizing the information provided from a DOT audit. The bill passed the House, but was ultimately blocked in the Senate.

After much input, a new infrastructure bill was put into motion this week that would take an incremental approach to an increased user fee. Motorists who drive on our roads would see a 2 cents/gallon increase each year over the next 5 years. It is important to note 100 percent of the additional funding would go solely toward our vast infrastructure needs. The last time South Carolina increased the per gallon user fee was in 1987 under the leadership of Governor Carroll Campbell. It remains one of the lowest in the country. Since the last increase, the cost to pave roads has multiplied without a new source of funding.

The oldest taxpayer watchdog group in South Carolina, The South Carolina Taxpayers Association (SCTA), announced its support for the House measure. SCTA President Don Weaver said, “Well naturally, our membership doesn’t like any tax increase if that were perfect, but we also realize that the roads do need an increase in funding, and so, unfortunately, the gas tax really is the best way to get that.”

By using a user fee increase (sustained long-term funding paid by anyone buying fuel to drive on SC roads), instead of General Fund money (one-time monies, most of which is collected only from SC citizens via sales/income tax), the new bill would shift the burden from being solely on the backs of SC taxpayers to anyone who uses our roadways – 1/3 of whom are out of state individuals. It’s called a “user fee,” not to try and hide the fact that it’s an increase of revenues, but to highlight the fact it’s a tax only paid by people who buy fuel to drive on our state’s roads. Those who drive tens of thousands of miles on our roads will pay more because they use them more, and those who drive much less, would pay much less under this plan. The measure is an effort to create a fair user fee for motorists who cause wear and tear on our roads.

In a creative effort to even further shift the burden from SC citizens to out-of-state funding sources, the new legislation places a transfer fee on any out-of-state individuals seeking to register a vehicle for use on our roadways. The concept being those who use our roads should pay to do so. Currently, Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee all have similar measures.

While this proposal makes its way through the legislative process, there will be many opportunities for discussion and debate. I’m asking for your input on the matter. I will also update you as additional details become available in the coming weeks.

I hope you’ll stay informed and visit my website, www.nathansnews.com, often this year. I will write regular posts as well as continue to send my COMMUNITY UPDATE emails each month. If you are not receiving these updates, please email me at [email protected] and let me know to add you to the list.

 

Thanks again for the honor and privilege to serve as your representative in Columbia!

 

Nathan Ballentine

Member, SC House of Representatives