Issue Spotlight: Roads

Roads.jpg

South Carolina’s roads are a disgrace. Cross the border into Georgia or North Carolina, and the roads magically improve. This is one of the most basic and legitimate functions of our state government, and we can’t even get it right!

A Non-Solution

Some, including my opponent, suggest raising the gas tax would fix the problem. If only it were that easy… but did you know that the 2014 budget increases spending by about $600 million, and yet $0 of that extra spending is for roads?

Here’s a detailed list of $644 million we could have spent on roads this year. If we raise the gas tax, what makes you think we won’t blow that money too?

“‘Taxpayers understand that if they want better roads they have to pay for them.’ True enough. The problem is that South Carolina taxpayers are already paying for better roads – they’re just not getting what they’re paying for.”

Jamie Murguia, SC Policy Council

Our state budget looks like these gallon jugs that were used for target practice. Until we patch the holes in our budget and make road resurfacing a priority, raising taxes won’t fix a thing.

 Roads in South Carolina

Roads in South Carolina

Never underestimate the State’s ability to waste your money.

The Magic Number: $600 million

How much will it cost to fix our roads? It depends on who you ask.

The SCDOT says we need about $2 billion a year for the next 20 years to fund roads, mass transit, and everybody’s wish lists. Excessive? Maybe a bit.

That’s why the South Carolina Alliance To Fix Our Roads set a more achievable proposed funding level of $600 million per year over 10 years to get our highways and bridges in good condition.

 Road funding

Road funding

I believe we can meet or exceed that goal by doing the following:

In addition to state roads, we also have an obligation to our counties to fully fund the local government fund, according to the law, which will help counties allocate more funds to county roads.

It’s not just about how much we spend, though, it’s also about where and how we spend it.

Establish Proper Accountability

Who is responsible for maintaining and funding South Carolina’s roads?

If you said the DOT, you’d be partially correct, but while the DOT Secretary is appointed by the Governor, DOT is run by the SC Transportation Commission - a board appointed mostly by the state legislature.

This is a problem because it blurs the line between the legislative and executive functions of government and leads to less transparency and accountability. Besides, our District 3 seat on that board is vacant, so you aren’t being represented.

But there’s more…

Meet STIB

The SC Transportation Infrastructure Bank (STIB) was established in 1997. It isn’t really an agency, and isn’t subject to the debt limits that state agencies have.

STIB is responsible for doling out billions to Charleston and Horry counties, while most counties never got a dime for their roads. According to Sen. Harvey Peeler,

“[T]he bank is force-feeding asphalt to Charleston, while the rest of South Carolina is on a starvation diet.”

 Road money

Road money

STIB is independent and unaccountable to the SCDOT or to the Governor - in fact, it is not even bound to follow DOT’s project list, which is disturbing since the legislature took $50 million of road funding away from DOT and gave it to STIB as a basis to borrow billions more without legislative debates or on-the-record votes.

It’s time to abolish the SC Transportation Infrastructure Bank and the SC Transportation Commission, and make DOT fully accountable to the Governor’s office.

Additionally, given DOT’s track record, the legislature should mandate that DOT maintain a fund balance at all times, so that DOT never goes broke again like they did in like they did in 2011.

Conclusion

Roads are not a Republican issue, nor are they a Democrat issue. It’s one of the most important issues our state faces right now, and every day we wait costs us millions more as our roads continue to deteriorate.

No more excuses. We have the money. We can do this.