By Robert Kittle
A new Winthrop poll found that a small majority, 50.5 percent, of South Carolinians now favors raising the gas tax to improve roads and bridges. A Winthrop poll in February 2008 found that more than 60 percent of South Carolinians were against a small gas tax increase.
South Carolina has the fourth-lowest gas tax in the nation and it hasn't been raised since 1987.
The poll asked: Would you support or oppose an increase in the gas tax with the new gas tax money going to improve roads and bridges?
Support: 50.5 percent
Oppose: 47.6 percent
Not sure or did not answer: 1.9 percent
Those who supported an increase were then asked: Would you support or oppose this new gas tax if it meant an extra $1 to $2 for a typical fill-up?
Support: 61.7 percent
Oppose: 37 percent
Not sure or did not answer: 1.3 percent
Paying $2 more was the limit for most, because supporters were then asked: Would you support or oppose this new gas tax if it meant an extra $3 to $4 for a typical fill-up?
Support: 38 percent
Oppose: 60.6 percent
Not sure or did not answer: 1.4 percent
There were several bills in the Statehouse this year to raise the gas tax but none passed. Instead, lawmakers agreed to take $50 million out of the general fund, from the sales tax on cars and trucks, and put that toward roads and borrow $500 million for major Interstate projects.
Even if lawmakers were to pass a gas tax increase based on the new poll numbers, Gov. Nikki Haley says she would veto it. "What I know is the majority of people in South Carolina want to see money go towards infrastructure. I agree on that. What I am not going to be quick to do is jump and raise taxes," she says.
Her likely Democratic opponent, Sen. Vincent Sheheen, is also against raising the gas tax. In his book, he writes, "The gas tax can't maintain our highways and bridges."
"With vehicles expected to get more miles per gallon in the future, revenue over time likely will decrease," he writes. He supports long-term borrowing for roads and devoting some general fund money to them.
Rep. B.R. Skelton, R-Pickens Co., was the sponsor of one of the bills that would've raised the gas tax this year. After hearing about the new poll numbers, he said, "I'm encouraged by that. I think 90 to 95 percent of the people realize our roads and bridges are in terrible shape."
He says he does intend to file another bill next year that would raise the gas tax, but he expects it to fail again, since it would need enough votes to override the governor's veto.
The South Carolina DOT estimates it needs an additional $1.5 billion a year just to bring the state's roads and bridges up to a level that would be considered "good."