COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCBD)- Summer travel is about to get more expensive in South Carolina because of an automatic increase in the state’s gas tax.

The South Carolina Department of Revenue announced Tuesday the sixth increase to the state motor fuel user fee which was approved by lawmakers as part of a 2017 agreement.

This comes as South Carolina drivers grapple with record-high gas prices. According to AAA, the state average is $4.51, about $0.40 lower than the national average.

But, the increase, set to take effect July 1, will push prices up another $0.02 per gallon as the fee goes from $0.26 to $0.28 per gallon.

In 2017, lawmakers passed the South Carolina Infrastructure and Economic Development Reform Act, which raises the fee by $0.02 each July ending in 2022. The $0.28 fee will become permanent.

Governor McMaster vetoed the gas tax bill when it was presented in 2017, saying DOT did not adequately use the tax revenue to address road repairs.

“Governor McMaster vetoed the gas tax bill in 2017 because he didn’t think it was necessary then and he doesn’t think it’s necessary now.” Deputy Chief of Staff for Brian Symmes said. “But the fact of the matter is that South Carolinians are hurting at the gas pump because of President Biden’s disastrous policies that have left Americans dependent in [sic] foreign energy producers. The only way for South Carolinians to get some real relief is for the Biden Administration to admit that their policies are failing and reverse course.”

The South Carolina Department of Transportation reported that between the first increase in July 2017 and March 2022, the state collected and deposited approximately $898.4 million into the Infrastructure Maintenance Trust Fund to support road and bridge work totaling more than $2 billion.

Some state politicians, including gubernatorial candidate Joe Cunningham, have called for the General Assembly to suspend the state’s gas tax in an effort to provide relief to motorists.

Cunningham, who first called for the suspension in November, said it will help drivers deal with “record-shattering” prices. Prices have jumped by about 60% compared to June 2021 when the state average was $2.80 per gallon.

South Carolina gas prices over the last 18 months. Source: GasBuddy.com

“South Carolinians need relief at the pump and that is why I am calling on the legislature to come back to temporarily suspend the gas tax,” Cunningham said. “I have been calling for a gas tax suspension since November of last year. It’s a simple act that can ease the financial burden on South Carolinians and the legislature has the power to do it through the Sine Die. In 2015, the legislature used this exact mechanism to reconvene to remove the Confederate flag from the State House and they should use it now.”

Cunningham suggested supplementing the lost revenue with American Rescue Plan funds or money from the state’s budget surplus.

SCDOT officials issued the following statement on Cunningham’s proposal in November, claiming that such action would “derail” infrastructure improvement efforts.

“There is a major misconception that projects can be kept on track and this would be a simple funding exchange. This is simply not correct.  The legislative process to consider – much less approve – such a measure as dedicating replacement funds to SCDOT will not take place until next year. This means that state funding would not be accessible to pay for projects and other roadworks until after July 2022 or eight months from now.  That’s eight months with no state funding to pay for new paving projects, new bridge projects, no ability to pay for day-to-day maintenance work on South Carolina’s extensive roadway network, and financially the biggest blow would be to SCDOT’s ability to provide the matching funds to draw down $1 Billion in federal infrastructure dollars.

This proposal would derail that state’s efforts to improve and upgrade our infrastructure by introducing a major cash flow crunch into a program that was designed through many years of debate and discussion by the state’s policymakers.  The state currently has $3.4 Billion in road work happening all across the Palmetto state and is set to continue to advance much more over the next year.”

Secretary of Transportation Christy A. Hall

The $0.02 increase on July 1 will be the final one.