Charleston Chamber pushes ahead on gas tax increase

CHARLESTON,S.C. (WCIV) -{}The Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce is moving aheadwith its controversial plan to raise the state gas tax. Members say theincrease is crucial to care for the roadways.

Finding money to fix and improve local highways is an ongoingstruggle.{} That's why a lot of local business leaders think raising thegas tax for the first time in decades will solve the problem.{} But otherssay doing that isn't the answer.

"We have opposed raising the gas tax until the state commitsto prioritizing our road investment needs," said Dana Beach.

The executive director of the Coastal Conservation League admitslocal roads need attention, but he isn't a fan of fixing them by paying more atthe pump.

"Simply giving the [Department of Transportation] more moneydoes not mean that money will be spent on projects that are important.{}Andit will in fact be wasted and we've seen that repeatedly throughout the lastthree decades in South Carolina," said Beach.

"We've got 1,900 bridges in South Carolina that are failing,and we've got to find money to fix these roads and bridges," said MaryGraham.

Graham is the senior vice president of business advocacy for theCharleston Metro Chamber of Commerce.{}

Shesays upgrading local and state roads is a priority for attracting new business.{}That'swhy she and the chamber are working to convince lawmakers to bump up the gastax.{}They believe even a ten-cent hike would make a difference.

"We know that increases in taxes are not necessarilypopular.{}But we believe that if people in South Carolina know that thatfunding will go directly and specifically for road infrastructure, that theywould support that," said Graham.

But opponents like Beach don't trust the Department ofTransportation with extra money.

"That process is a completely politically drivenprocess.{}And until that changes, we shouldn't give them a dime more,"said Beach.

One thing both sides can agree on is that this is an electionyear, and the chance of any tax going up in 2014 is slim.

On Feb. 4, Gov. Nikki Haley told chamber members she opposesraising the gas tax.{}She says there's enough money in the budget to payfor highway improvements.

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