Horry County senator proposes gas fee increase

Would you be willing to pay more money for better roads, if the increase was called a fee instead of a tax?

Sen. Ray Cleary, R-Murrells Inlet, is betting the change in wording might lead to a change in attitude about the state's gas tax.

South Carolina's gas tax has been stuck at 16 cents a gallon since 1987 and every attempt to raise it faces opposition from people who say gas is high enough as it is.

"I don't want gas to go any higher. I don't even like filling up my tank with gas the way it is now," said Malcolm Gibbs of Socastee.

Some South Carolinians are willing to pay more, but with conditions.

"If the money goes to building new roads and improvements, I think it's a good thing," said Dave Stewart of Myrtle Beach.

Cleary would agree. He's proposing an increase of 2 cents a gallon each year for ten years, but he says that isn't really a tax hike.

It's an increase in the user fee.

"Doesn't go to the state treasury, doesn't get money that we can spend on as legislators. It goes specifically to SC DOT to fix the roads of South Carolina, then it's a fee," Cleary said.

Cleary says the proposed fee increase would still raise only about a third of the $1.5 billion the DOT needs for fixing roads.

The rest would come from 17 other amendments, raising things like driver's license fees and the car sales tax.

Cleary says raising the gas fee by 2 cents a gallon would cost about $1 a month for drivers who fill up once a week.

It's an affordable price for safe roads, he says.

"I think when the average citizen gets past the tax and starts to look what it's personally going to cost him, he will be surprised at how little amount that is."

Gov. Nikki Haley opposes any tax increase, but Cleary says if something needs to be fixed and a fee increase will handle it, then maybe the governor will do what he says is the right thing.

The legislature begins its 2014 session next Tuesday.