2014 News for Pawleys Island, Litchfield and Murrells Inlet
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Politics: Cleary raises funds to counter sound bites

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

State Sen. Ray Cleary is a year away from deciding if he will run for a fourth term, but he sent out a fundraising letter this summer anyway.

It’s all because of the gas tax. “That 30-second sound bite says Cleary wants to raise your gasoline fees,” the Murrells Inlet Republican explained. “I’ve been criticized in the paper and I just feel like between now and next November I need to kind of get my message out as to why I’ve been in the mode that I am operating at.”

The state Department of Transportation says it needs an extra $1.5 billion a year to keep up with maintenance of the state’s roads and bridges. The motor fuel user fee, often called the gas tax, provides 70 percent of the agency’s funding. The fee is 16 cents a gallon and hasn’t been raised since 1987. Cleary has proposed indexing the fee to the Consumer Price Index.

He has also criticized Gov. Nikki Haley, a fellow Republican, for threatening to veto any gas tax increase in the last legislative session but failing to offer an alternative.

“I am frustrated,” Cleary said. “The governor gets heavily re-elected and basically tells everybody, ‘Oh, by the way, I’m not going to tell you how I’m going to fund the roads until after you re-elect me.’ I have a problem with that.”

A realistic plan to fix the state’s roads can’t ignore the gas tax, Cleary said. “The surrounding states are getting 38 or 39 cents a gallon. They have nice roads; we have lousy roads,” he said.

That’s the kind of talk that’s likely to prompt a primary challenge. “One of the reasons I needed to raise some funds was, if I didn’t, I would have put myself in a position where I would have looked vulnerable,” Cleary said.

In the quarter ending Oct. 10, Cleary raised $26,905, according to a filing with the state Ethics Commission. During the same period, state Rep. Stephen Goldfinch raised $31,265 in his successful campaign for a second term in House District 108. His Democratic challenger, Vida Miller, raised $44,683.

Cleary had $73,137 in his campaign account. “According to the Republican caucus, you have to have about $150,000 to $200,000 in your campaign account to keep people at bay,” he said.

If he runs in 2016, it will be for the last time, he said. “I had a lot of fun this year, so I anticipate running,” Cleary said.

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