Nation & World

S.C. Gov. Haley opposes gas tax rate hike to fund DOT

Gov. Nikki Haley said Tuesday she opposes raising the state’s gasoline tax to increase revenue for the cash-strapped S.C. Department of Transportation.

A week after a special DOT committee met to discuss increasing revenues for the department — including a possible gas tax increase — Haley said the agency needs to get its financial house in order.

“I’m not looking at a gas tax right now,” Haley said, at the same time repeating her call to make the DOT a Cabinet agency. “What I’m looking at is management of the DOT and what they are doing on the inside to fix their own problems before they look at any more revenue.’’

The department has been under the microscope since it recently revealed that it was having trouble paying bills. Some contractors were overdue for payments for road work. The federal government advanced the state $52 million to help ease the crunch.

DOT officials are working on plans to address financial problems but have been criticized by some lawmakers over priorities. The department’s board approved a $344 million bond package for new roads earlier this year, including a new freeway to Myrtle Beach and an I-26 connector to the Columbia airport, at a time when the state’s existing roads badly need maintenance, some lawmakers say.

The DOT is one of the state’s largest agencies, operating on a budget of more than $1 billion. The department sets road priorities for the state and is charged with maintaining roads.

Last week, a 16-member committee appointed by the Transportation Commission launched an initiative to find more money for the DOT. The state’s 16-cent-gasoline tax was last increased in 1987.

Haley said she is concerned with the agency’s road-setting priorities and supports getting rid of the state Transportation Commission. The agency now is controlled by a seven member board, picked mostly by legislators, but Haley said it should be a Cabinet agency directly under her control.

“I personally think the board needs to go,’’ Haley said, noting that Transportation Secretary Robert St. Onge needs the authority to set road priorities, rather than the Transportation Commission.