The South Carolina Club for Growth, the Laurens County Tea Party, and the Carolina Auto Dealers Association are a sample of groups that attended on Tuesday a rally asking lawmakers to “tank the tax.”
The Americans for Prosperity’s South Carolina chapter hosted the rally, attended by a handful of lawmakers who will oppose the Senate’s plan to increase the state’s 16.75-cents-a-gallon gas tax by 12 cents over six years.
The state Transportation Department has said it needs more than $1 billion annually to bring infrastructure up to par, but opponents say the state already has the funding needed to improve infrastructure.
Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, said funding to the SCDOT has increased 120 percent—from roughly $1 billion to $2.2 billion—during his tenure in office from 2009 to today.
“No other area of the budget has grown to that degree,” he said.
But roads have not improved correspondingly, according to Davis, who has promised to filibuster a gas tax increase for the third year in a row. Several other senators have pledged to join him.
“This bill as it is currently written cannot pass, and will not pass,” said Sen. Wes Climer, R-Rock Hill.
Activist Larry Byrd, of Fort Mill, doesn’t think lawmakers should raise the tax, citing budget surpluses in recent years. “We’re taxed enough as it is,” he said. “We’re taxed into oblivion.”
The disconnect between roads spending and improvements, according to Davis, is a result of three or four legislators deciding how those dollars are spent.
The powerful House speaker and Senate president pro tempore each have appointments to the controversial State Infrastructure Bank, which Davis has argued should be abolished.
Senate President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, holds a seat on the bank’s board, along with House Majority Leader Gary Simrill, R-Rock Hill.
Leatherman was not available for comment late Tuesday afternoon.
Director of AFP, Daniel Brennan called for ignoring “false arguments” by so-called well-funded special interest groups backing a tax increase this year.
The South Carolina Chamber of Commerce and the Alliance to Fix our Roads have backed an increase to fund infrastructure.
Such groups would benefit from a tax increase, Brennan said. The alliance is a coalition of groups, including construction and paving companies. The alliance has defended the coalition, saying its members are an important part of the economy.
Critics of AFP have pointed out the group is backed by the libertarian Koch brothers, David and Charles, whose business dealings involve oil.
Brennan said the group has hundreds of donors, including the brothers, but he doesn’t get calls from them. “This is a grass roots organization.”
That’s something you don’t see with those groups that might benefit from a tax increase, he said.
Though AFP is working to stop the increase, Brennan indicated the group would entertain it only if corresponding income tax relief and reform—making the SCDOT accountable directly to the governor—were part of the equation.
Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant has also opposed the increase. “Make the DOT a pure cabinet agency,” he said. “And, two, hands off your wallet—it’s that simple.”