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Gov. Henry McMaster


COLUMBIA — Gov. Henry McMaster is asking the Trump administration to give South Carolina another break from federal ID requirements and billions for road construction.

McMaster met over the weekend with two Cabinet leaders while in Washington for governors' associations. He got an answer from neither.

But the Republican governor hopes his ties to President Donald Trump boost his requests. McMaster, an early Trump backer, ascended to the governor's office after former Gov. Nikki Haley resigned to become Trump's pick for United Nations ambassador.

McMaster asked Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly for either a waiver or another extension for complying with the REAL ID Act of 2005. Last month's latest extension gives South Carolina until June 6 to meet the security requirements for driver's licenses.

If the deadline remains, a South Carolina license won't suffice for getting onto military bases. Additional ID, such as a passport, would also be needed to travel by plane starting in January 2018.

McMaster told media outlets the REAL ID law is another Washington mandate that threatens South Carolina's economy.

The law, passed in reaction to the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, was meant to make secure, modern identification consistent across the country. But South Carolina officials have resisted the change, calling it an overreach of federal power. Legislators passed a law in 2007 barring the state from complying. Some people feared it would lead to a national identification card.

If Homeland Security enforces the law, "it would be a disaster for our growth, for trade, for commerce," McMaster told The Post and Courier of Charleston. "With companies that want to come here, weighing between us and other states, that might just be enough to tip the balance out of our favor."

According to Homeland Security, only half of states are compliant with Real ID. South Carolina is among 20 with extensions. Five states are considered noncompliant, so their regular driver's licenses already are not accepted for getting onto a military base or nuclear facility.

"Of course, the secretary observed quite properly that the law is the law," McMaster told The State newspaper of Columbia.

McMaster also met over the weekend with Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao about his Feb. 6 letter to Trump seeking $5 billion for South Carolina's roads as part of any federal infrastructure plan.

Legislators in the South Carolina House will debate this week a proposal that would eventually raise more than $600 million additional yearly for roadwork. More than 60 percent of that would come from raising the state's gas tax by 10 cents over a five-year phase-in, to 26 cents per gallon.

McMaster has repeatedly said he's unconvinced a gas tax hike is needed.

The state Department of Transportation says it needs an additional $28 billion annually over the next 25 years to bring South Carolina's highway system up to good condition.

"My goal is to leave no stone unturned in getting the money we need to fix our roads," McMaster said.