Updated: Fri, 02/01/2013 - 16:14

S.C. to use 'cheap gas' to recruit tourists

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By Sarita Chourey

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- South Carolina’s tourism department hopes to woo visitors with the promise of cheaper gas.

“As a matter of fact, we actually mention that in some of our public relations stuff now, that we have some of the least expensive gas,” said Duane Parrish, director of the S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, during a three-day state tourism conference that ended Wednesday.

The agency is also trying to encourage in-state residents to travel within South Carolina.

“Eighty percent of the people here have to buy gas. Why not?” Parrish said of efforts to advertise low gas prices.

The top states whose residents travel to South Carolina destinations include: South Carolina at 31 percent, North Carolina 19 percent, Georgia 13 percent, Virginia 5 percent, and Florida 4 percent, according to PRT.

The secret to South Carolina's cheap gas lies in its gas tax of about 16 cents per gallon. The tax is among the lowest in the nation and hasn't been raised since 1987. Highway funding to fix and maintain roadways in the state comes largely from revenue generated by the gas tax.

On the flip side, South Carolina drivers pay an average of $265 each year fixing their vehicles because of ailing road conditions, according to one estimate.

On Friday, regular fuel averaged $3.25 per gallon in South Carolina, $3.39 in Georgia, $3.52 in Florida, and $3.43 in North Carolina, according to AAA. Only eight states, concentrated in the West, had lower gas prices than South Carolina.

The S.C. Alliance to Fix Our Roads is advocating for new revenue in order to better maintain the state’s highway infrastructure. The most obviously idea, to raise the gas tax, has always met swift political resistance.

But Kristen Lominack, associate director of the non-profit Alliance, said that’s not necessarily what the group is recommending. She said it’s just one option among a variety that include changes to the vehicle sales tax and rental car fees that she hopes the S.C. General Assembly will consider.

South Carolina has 907 structurally deficient bridges and 774 functionally obsolete bridges, according to the Alliance. The nonprofit says an additional $31 million is needed annually simply for bridge replacement, let alone billions for roadways in the future.

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