The Senate Transportation Committee on Wednesday carried over a bill to restructure the South Carolina Department of Transportation Commission 10 to 7.
Eight members make up the commission currently. The governor appoints one at-large member, and legislative delegations from the state’s seven Congressional districts elect the rest.
Under the new structure, which was patterned after the South Carolina Ports Authority, the governor would appoint nine commissioners for six-year terms—seven from each Congressional district and two at-large members.
Each commissioner would have to come from a different county. Supporters say the approach circumvents giving too much influence to any one county and to the governor. No one-term governor would be able to appoint an entire commission. The commissioners would also be subject to legislative confirmation.
Some senators won’t vote to fund road improvements without reform of the transportation agency. Sen. Sean Bennet, R-Summerville, thinks funding and reform are “completely and inseparably linked.”
“Bottom line is we’re changing the system one way or another,” he said.
But Sen. Ray Cleary, who said after the hearing he doesn’t favor any particular structure, thinks the model in the bill could give the governor too much control. The Murrells Inlet Republican said he voted to carry the bill over because funding and restructuring should be dealt with jointly on the Senate floor.
Otherwise, he worries Republican Gov. Nikki Haley would sign into law a bill that restructures the agency, while vetoing a roads funding bill that lacks tax relief.
In letters she sent Tuesday to House Speaker Jay Lucas and Senate Finance Committee Chairman, Hugh Leatherman, Haley wrote that she would veto a gas tax increase that wasn’t balanced by a cut in income taxes.
Leatherman, R-Florence, also voted to carry over the reform package. He told Finance Committee members on Tuesday they should delay passing a funding package until they knew how the funds would be used. “It seems to me like the cart and the horse ought to travel together.”
The committee is slated to address on Wednesday, section-by-section, a bill by Cleary to fund road improvements.
It is unclear how Haley’s promised veto and the delay in reform will affect a funding package.
Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Charleston, said Tuesday he plans to move ahead with agency reform regardless of a funding package. Grooms heads the Transportation Committee and sits on the Finance Committee.