South Carolina Democrat Proposes Temporary Gas Tax Halt to Ease Cost at Pump

One candidate for South Carolina's governor is proposing a temporary halt of the state's gas tax to help ease gas costs. Joe Cunningham explained his proposal in an interview with the Associated Press.

"We've got to get creative on how we lessen the burden on South Carolina families," the former South Carolina congressman said. "This is a no-brainer."

South Carolina's gas tax stands at just more than a quarter per gallon. Cunningham explained that his proposed suspension of the tax would save drivers in the state around $5 every time they filled up a 20-gallon tank. He also revealed that his proposed plan would last until June 30 if passed. The June 30 deadline marks the end of the fiscal year and is two weeks after primary elections in the state.

Meanwhile, South Carolina's per-gallon gas price has dropped by two cents, now totaling at $3.14 a gallon, according to the AP. However, this is still high compared to $1.90 per gallon last year.

Cunningham will face other Democrats next June during the state's primary elections. Unlike some of his opponents, his campaign focuses on the current South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster and his vehement opposition towards raising or halting the gas tax.

"The question in my mind isn't why would we do it; it's why should we not do it," Cunningham said. "McMaster's administration has been bankrupt on solutions."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Joe Cunningham
South Carolina gubernatorial candidate Joe Cunningham has proposed a suspension of the state's gas tax as a way to lower prices at the pump. Above, Cunningham speaks to the AP on July 10, 2021, in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. AP Photo/Meg Kinnard

Pandemic-related supply shortages are driving gas prices to record highs across the country.

Cunningham said he'd utilize federal relief aid and the state's budget surplus to keep tax-funded infrastructure projects on track.

A suspension would also require approval from a Republican-controlled Legislature that's technically out of session until January—and which overwhelmingly passed the tax in the first place, more than four years ago, with bipartisan support. Cunningham argued that lawmakers' adjournment allows them to return to Columbia to debate any measure related to the pandemic.

The national average for a gallon of regular gasoline decreased by a penny last week to $3.41, according to the AAA, but the agency warned that consumer prices would likely stay high as long as oil prices remain higher than $80 per barrel.

South Carolina's per-gallon gas price had one of the largest over-the-week decreases. According to AAA, that's still 10 cents higher than a month ago.

The gas tax had been debated for decades before finally becoming law as a way to fund billions in infrastructure projects.

To pay for the tax shortfall while keeping those efforts on track, Cunningham said he'd propose using federal pandemic relief money, as well as some state funding.

South Carolina's Board of Economic Advisers said last week that state lawmakers would have nearly $1 billion more to spend this budget year than expected, thanks to a quick recovery from the economic shock of the pandemic, and people spending money much faster than experts predicted.

The windfall boosts the money controlled by the General Assembly to nearly $11 billion, not counting the roughly $3 billion in federal COVID-19 relief money coming to South Carolina.

House and Senate leaders have not officially called lawmakers back to either chamber before January's session convenes. The window on such a move is tightening, although it's still possible.

Cunningham, who will face other fellow Democrats in next June's primary, has been focusing his campaign thus far on McMaster, who is seeking his second full term in office. Like Nikki Haley before him, McMaster was vehement in his opposition to efforts to raise the gas tax.

"South Carolina is a great place – and you deserve better than this," he said, in an online video explaining his veto.

Cunningham said the tax cut should transcend partisanship.

Gas Increase
South Carolina's gas prices are currently at $3.14 a gallon. Above, a fuel truck drives by a gas station on November 10, 2021, in Richmond, California. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images