Monday will mark when South Carolina drivers must pay 2 cents more per gallon of fuel in gas tax, the third of six annual 2-cent increases approved by legislators in 2017 to make a dent in decades’ worth of road maintenance woes. But as state motorists pay almost 23 cents per gallon in state tax just in time for July 4 holiday travel, and $70 million more will be drawn each year for the state’s roads, transportation officials are indicating it will still be several years down the road until drivers see a more dynamic pace of $871 million in scheduled projects under construction. Of $1 billion in road and bridge projects connected to the gas tax, $71 million (7%) had been completed. DOT records to date indicate 12 of the state’s 46 counties have not had a reconstruction or resurfacing project finished. Neighboring states Georgia (31.6 cents per gallon) and North Carolina (35.4 cents per gallon) have higher state gas taxes than South Carolina. The S.C. Asphalt Pavement Association estimates more than 1,000 jobs will be created over the next five years, and the state’s asphalt industry currently has 350 job openings.
South Carolina lawmakers were back in Columbia on Tuesday to finish work on the state’s $9.3 billion budget, but it was not seen as a heavy task because so many of Gov. Henry McMaster set forth priorities at the beginning of the process – teacher raises, plans to boost rural schools, taxpayer rebates – that were met through strong and transparent cooperation with the House. However, among the governor’s budget vetoes that were overridden included $50,000 toward hiring a consult to revamp Richland County’s elections system and $2.7 million toward sinking Charleston’s Cold War-era submarine USS Clamagore to become an artificial reef.
While Kentucky is the region’s undisputed front-runner in hemp farming with 6,700 acres last year, growers in the Palmetto State are projecting a 1,200% increase in their acres devoted to the cash crop in its second year of it being allowed in South Carolina and the recent removal of a cap on the number of growers. The state has 113 permitted growers ready to plant 3,300 acres, compared to 20 growers for 256 acres in 2018. North Carolina, which allowed hemp farming one year ahead of South Carolina, grew 3,184 acres in 2018. “We’re in a really good position right now to be a solid hemp state,” said Vanessa Elsalah, the state Agriculture Department’s hemp outreach specialist. Experts point to a demand for CBD oil and expansion into biofuel and textile industries as drivers for growth.
BMW’s 11,000 assembly plant workers in Spartanburg will no longer have access to a company pension plan beginning July 1, as all the German automaker’s 70,000 U.S. workers are set to be moved to “defined contribution” retirement plans such as a 401(k), the company acknowledged. It is among the company’s moves to reduce strategic risks as its 2019 profits are expected to drop from 10% to 6%. New employees who came aboard since 2012 had not been offered pensions, and retired employees will not see changes to their benefits, according to a company spokeswoman.
Angela Keith, 53, was sentenced to one year in federal prison, and Ann David Eldridge, 58, received a six-month sentence in a federal health care case where from 2009-2016 they fraudulently billed federal government health insurers for $13 million in care never received by autistic children. The Sumter women worked for the S.C. Early Autism Project and pleaded guilty Tuesday to misdemeanor charges of making false statements to Medicaid and Tricare. They also agreed to testify against Susan Butler, the S.C. Early Autism Project’s founder and former top executive, who is set to go on trial in January as the government looks to recover $9 million from her.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING:
“Unfortunately, we live in a world of instant gratification, so being patient is often easier said than done.”
– Jennifer Patterson, executive director of the nonprofit South Carolina Alliance to Fix Our Road, on the pace of road construction since the 2017 road construction gas tax has been in effect. Of $1 billion in planned road and bridge projects, $71 million (7%) has been finished.