DALLAS — South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley reluctantly signed a bill authorizing up to $2.3 billion of state revenue bonds to fund transportation infrastructure projects just hours before the measure would have become law at midnight on Wednesday without her action.
"I have done so for one reason and one reason only," Haley said in her signing statement. "It is a better option than what we would have had without this bill."
But the road bond bill is a "makeshift solution," she said, adding, "We must find a permanent fix to funding our roads and bridges, the type of fix that does not exist in this legislation."
The road bonds will be supported by $212 million per year of revenue from the state's sales tax on cars and trucks and from several other road-related fees that will be permanently directed to the state transportation fund. The revenue is currently divided equally between the South Carolina Department of Transportation and local government road projects.
The measure also transfers $65.7 million from the state general fund to the South Carolina Transportation Infrastructure Bank for financing state road projects and interstate highway upgrades.
The law goes into effect on July 1.
The South Carolina General Assembly approved the measure, S. 1258, in the final hours of the 2016 legislative session early last week after the state Senate balked at a House bill that would have raised the state gasoline tax by 10 cents per gallon. The current rate of 16 cents per gallon is one of the lowest state gasoline taxes in the U.S.
The road bond bill was developed by lawmakers behind closed doors with no input from her or state Transportation Secretary Christy Hall, Haley said.
"In the waning hours of a two-year legislative session a deal was cut, out of the public eye, and a new plan appeared in the Senate," she said. "It had not been studied. It had not been vetted. It passed anyway."
Haley asked the General Assembly in January to raise the state gasoline tax in exchange for a cut in the state income tax rate. She said the proposed 10 cent increase in the gasoline tax would generate an additional $3 billion over 10 years for state highway and bridge projects.
Haley said the new law is a step forward but not a permanent solution to restoring the state's transportation infrastructure.
"We, as elected leaders of South Carolina, must not deceive the public," she said. "And to claim this law as a victory, to represent it in any way as a solution to our infrastructure problems, is to do just that."
Haley wanted lawmakers to give her the authority to appoint state transportation commissioners, who determine which road projects are funded each year. The newly enacted road bond law authorizes the governor to appoint seven of the eight commissioners who will then have to be confirmed by the General Assembly. Until now, the commissioners were appointed by lawmakers. "South Carolina will continue to be a state where the legislature, all 170 members of it, controls our transportation system," she said.
"The regional horse-trading that has been the driving force behind the arbitrary way we select road projects will continue," Haley said. "Political power will reign over logic and reason."
House Speaker Jay Lucas agreed that the funding in the road bill is insufficient but called it a compromise measure.
"The House never suggested that these reform measures were perfect and we stand by our commitment to finding a long-term, sustainable funding stream to permanently fix our roads," he said.