South Carolina blogger files suit, says gas tax bill is unconstitutional

South Carolina blogger files suit against the gas tax bill (Madeline Montgomery/WPDE)

William Folks, the owner of a news blog covering South Carolina, filed suit against the State of South Carolina and South Carolina Legislators asking a judge to decide if the gas tax is constitutional, according to court documents.

"It's ultimately not about me and it's ultimately not about whether you agree or disagree with the gas tax," Folks said. "There are folks who agree with the gas tax and who believe it should've been passed and that the gas tax should've been raised, but they also understand that, hey, we've got to do it right."

The lawsuit was filed Aug. 11 in Richland County.

Folks said things were added to the bill that did not relate to the infrastructure of gas tax. That is what he said is unconstitutional. He said aspects like college tuition and tax credits have nothing to do with the law taxpayers are now abiding by.

On May 25, the South Carolina General Assembly overrode a veto from Gov. Henry McMaster to enact the SC Infrastructure and Economic Development Reform Act.

This act, known as Act 40, instated the gas tax, road tax, a registration fee increase and other taxes to fix South Carolina’s roads.

Multiple South Carolina Legislators, such as local representative Stephen Goldfinch, came out in support of the gas tax.

"I've been fighting this issue in South Carolina going on five years now. There is not a person in the general assembly that doesn't admit that we don't have enough money for roads," said Goldfinch.

While Senator Greg Hembree said he’s been against the gas tax aspect of the bill since the beginning.

“It hits the working poor. You know, the single mom who's trying to raise two children by herself, the same way it hits a millionaire. If she buys a tank full of gas, she pays the same tax increase as the millionaire pays,” he said.

Folks states in the lawsuit that Act 40 violates part of the South Carolina constitution and that if it is found unconstitutional at some point in the future, “the implications are so great that guidance is needed now in order to comply with Act 40 and … that resolution of its constitutionality is needed for future guidance.”

Because of the question of constitutionality, Folks states in the lawsuit that there is confusion on how to implement the legislation.

He questions the two funds, one for infrastructure maintenance and one for safety maintenance, that were set up as part of the law. The money for those funds would be used for state highway bonds and to establish a refundable income tax credit for preventative maintenance on vehicles, respectively.

If the entire law is found unconstitutional, a judge will need to decide if those two funds can be used for the stated purposes.

Folks also claims the lawsuit is unconstitutional because it involves 42 different subjects when state law says legislation must be on one topic and express that one topic in the title of the law.

"We can't just throw the constitution out for the expediency of one particular law and I think that's what this lawsuit's about," Folks explained. "Not necessarily whether you agree with the gas tax, or disagree with it, it's whether or not the thing was passed in accordance with the constitution.

If a judge agrees with Folks and finds the law unconstitutional, it could make the law null and void.

"If the supreme court agrees with him, that's fine with me. We'll start over. I was in favor of a clean gas tax bill this year anyway," said Goldfinch.

Hembree said he isn’t surprised that someone filed a lawsuit.

“We were discussing that a lawsuit would be filed in the course of the debate back last year because this was an issue involving the one subject rule,” he said. “I can't say I was surprised. Like I said, we knew it was a possibility. My reaction really was I kind of expected it.”

We also reached out to Sen. Luke Rankin, who supported the bill, he declined to comment.

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