How to pay for roads in 2014... without raising taxes

The SC Policy Council published this budget analysis last week.

One would think that if transportation funding were actually a priority, lawmakers would prioritize the taxes already collected for the purpose of repairing roads and bridges. Yet as much as lawmakers have taken the House and Senate floor to plead for more money for transportation, the budgets passed in both chambers don’t reflect this supposed concern.... The money is already there; only it’s being spent on corporate welfare and pork-laden earmarks.

We found at a bare minimum $644 million not currently in the Department of Transportation budget that could be transferred to the department.

  • Department of Commerce: $65,277,555. Even when not including federal funds, over $65 million budgeted for the Department of Commerce could be transferred to DoT with no harmful effects. State government does more harm than good by redistributing wealth from taxpayers to state-selected companies, as much of the money allocated is budgeted to do.
  • Rural Infrastructure Authority: $27,550,000. Essentially another arm of the Department of Commerce, this new agency doles out money for local projects that bureaucrats then appropriate.
  • Capital Reserve Fund: $127,791,525. Often used as a slush fund for lawmakers to fund pet projects, this money could be spent on actual capital projects – like fixing roads and bridges. Instead, they decided to fund things like:
    • The Deal Closing Fund (plain ol’ corporate welfare): $24.9 million
    • Locate SC Site Inventory: $6 million
    • “Office of Innovation”: $1 million
    • Department of Commerce “Research Initiatives”: $4 million
    • Sesquicentennial State Park Splash Pad: $500,000
  • Infrastructure Bank Board: $150,453,276. Although this money would be spent on “transportation,” it would be spent based on the skewed priorities of the board that has a history of funding very few counties, and road expansions, not repairs. Money is also put in this agency so it can be bonded at a much higher rate than it can in the DoT budget.
  • Non-recurring Provisos (From FY14 Surplus): $187,275,934. Although it’s not prudent to rely on “one-time” money to fund major state functions, if lawmakers were serious about their concerns for transportation spending, they’d use these funds in conjunction with others to fund transportation needs. These are just a few examples-mostly from the Senate budget they decided to fund instead:
    • Partnerships for Innovation-TransformSC: $200,000
    • Deal Closing Fund (corporate welfare): $12.4 million
    • SC Council of Competitiveness: $750,000
    • Sports Development Fund: $2 million
    • Congressional Medal of Honor Bowl: $100,000
    • Historic Columbia-Woodrow Wilson Family Home: $600,000
    • Southeastern Wildlife Expo: $200,000
    • Marion County Workforce Development Training Facility: $500,000
    • U. of Charleston-Purchase of Surplus State Property: $2 million
    • Multi-Purpose Business/Entertainment/Sports Complex-City-County of Spartanburg: $380,000
  • “The Money Tree”: $86,000,000. The Board of Economic Advisors recently added roughly $86 million to the state’s next fiscal year, thus giving lawmakers more money to “work with.” Although Governor Haley argued in the widely ignored executive budget that the money that falls from this “money tree” should be used for transportation, it’s unclear what lawmakers will use it for. However, it could be assumed that the House will use this extra money to help conform to the budget that the Senate desires (to avoid a conference committee).
  • Legislator Pay Raises: $2,000,000. Although the additional $1,000/month for in-district expenses would be optional, the budget will need to cover the full amount since lawmakers can be counted on to take the full amount. (Remember, in-district expenses at the present level are “optional,” too.)

If lawmakers really valued funding transportation, they could easily use these items to accomplish that end. The money is there if they want to use it. They would just have to give up their raises, pork projects, the power to hand out corporate welfare. Don’t hold your breath.