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Davis filibuster against gas tax increase shuts down Senate

Author: Jeffrey Collins

Source: The Island Packet

May 27, 2015

COLUMBIA, S.C. — After another frustrating day of not getting anywhere, Republicans in the South Carolina Senate called a closed-door meeting to see if they can reach an agreement on how to spend extra money coming into the state budget and fix roads.

A filibuster by Sen. Tom Davis went through a third legislative day Tuesday, with Davis vowing to hold the floor for the final five regular days of the session if necessary to stop lawmakers from raising the gas tax to fix roads.

Davis thinks South Carolina can find enough money in its budget for road repairs and expansion. His cause has been bolstered by the likelihood that the state will find an extra $400 million to spend in this year's budget when the Board of Economic Advisers meets Friday.

"We have the high ground," said Davis, R-Beaufort. "Why should we not block everything until we have assurances the $400 million is going to be spent on roads and bridges?"

On Thursday, Senate President Pro Tem Hugh Leatherman seemed to indicate Tuesday was going to be Davis' last day to filibuster one way or the other, warning lawmakers to bring their pajamas. But there were no moves to get Davis off the floor. Instead, a few senators engaged him with questions, while most of the rest of them milled around and spoke to one another in small huddles. Frustration grew by the hour as Davis kept speaking.

Just before 5 p.m., Leatherman moved for adjournment and Majority Leader Harvey Peeler immediately called for the chamber's 28 Republicans to meet him for a closed-door caucus meeting in the conference room above the chamber.

"I imagine we'll have folks talk and see where we are," said Leatherman, R-Florence.

Davis is speaking against a bill on how to spend $85 million the state had left over, which would go mostly to higher education in its current form. But the bigger goal of the filibuster is how to spend the bigger pot of additional money. Davis wants almost all of the $400 million to go to roads or tax relief and thinks the Department of Transportation has enough money to improve South Carolina highways if it was spent better or sent to the counties along with many of the 41,000 miles of public roads the state maintains.

Davis said he feels like he is closer to his goal of stopping any increase in the gas tax than he was when he first took the floor Wednesday and thinks the Senate can still get stuff done this year if it goes along with his wishes.

There are 20 pages of bills on the calendar waiting, including a proposal to get an extra $800 million to roads by increasing the gas tax and a number of fees. The Senate also hasn't taken up any bills offering income tax relief, an idea that has become more popular since news of the extra revenue began to spread.

"The Senate can move fast when it wants to," Davis said.

The lack of action is also frustrating people in the House. During roll call Tuesday afternoon, Rep. Grady Brown, D-Bishopville, suggested the House stop sending bills to the Senate until the Senate passed some of the bills it has.

House Speaker Jay Lucas laughed before gently telling Brown he was out of order.

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