Another week ends with no votes on road funding in SC Senate

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Another week has ended in the South Carolina Senate without any votes on getting more money to state roads as pressure mounts from some senators and the business community to end filibusters on the bill.

State Sen. Lee Bright took over the filibuster Thursday from state Sen. Tom Davis, who ended the 2015 session blocking a bill that could raise the state's gas tax to put more money to roads, reduce other taxes and change how the board that runs the state Department of Transportation is appointed. Davis also spoke out against the bill for four more days.

Bright said he and Davis are among a half-dozen senators ready to speak as long as they can to stop the bill. "I just can't in good conscious allow a tax increase to come through the Senate that I didn't do all I could to stop it," said Bright, R-Spartanburg, who wouldn't name the other senators.

The roads debate and filibuster just isn't holding off possible money for roads and bridges. It means the Senate isn't taking up anything remotely controversial . And that has other senators upset.

"We're burning up precious days," said Sen. Thomas McElveen, R-Sumter.

The list of bills waiting in the Senate had ballooned to 46 pages. The calendar was just 10 pages a year ago on Feb. 25, 2015. And there are two hotly contested bills set for debate immediately behind the roads bill. One deals with refugees from Muslim countries and the other would reform ethics laws which has tied the Senate up before.

Senators can vote to end a filibuster with a majority vote, but they haven't acted yet.

Senate President Pro Tem Hugh Leatherman called the Senate in early next Tuesday, but said he thinks senators can still work something out. "I've got all the patience in the world," said Leatherman, R-Florence.

Business groups are also pressuring the Senate to do something. The South Carolina Chamber of Commerce started the week with a statement saying they noted the lack of action and urging members to contact lawmakers and sent a second statement Thursday.

"Senators who continue this inaction are essentially telling voters they would rather waste hard earned tax dollars on paying for pothole claims and car damage than funding a measure to fix our roads," the chamber said.

The chamber also points out South Carolina had a 15 percent jump in traffic deaths to 950 in 2015, although it isn't clear how many of those were caused by poorly maintained roads.

On the other side, groups like Americans for Prosperity, who think a tax increase isn't needed, just better accountability on how the money is spent, are sending dozens of messages to senators and flooding Twitter with support for the filibuster.

The DOT has given lawmakers a wide range of options, from spending an additional $65 million a year to good the pavement on existing interstates only to good condition to spending an additional $1.2 billion over the next 30 years to get all roads to good condition and expand a number of highway chokepoints.

Whatever passes the Senate then goes back to the House, which passed its own roads bill last year. Gov. Nikki Haley has said she will only sign a bill with a gas tax increase if there is an equal tax cut and the DOT board is reformed.

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Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/jeffrey-collins