For the second session in a row, the House passed a tax-and-spend "roads bill" that keeps the same old unelected cronies in charge. Look, and learn. Here's how it's done.
The House Republican Caucus published a propaganda piece titled "The Last Resort: SC infrastructure needs and how to address them." Spoiler: it's full of lies and disinformation.
House leadership put forward Amendment 1A to H.3579 and called it a "reform bill," but they left out the reform part. Somebody had to call them on their hypocrisy.
The Republican Caucus will meet in Myrtle Beach on Saturday, August 16th for the annual caucus retreat. I was asked to submit in advance my ideas on what we should work on in the upcoming legislative session, and here is my response.
1. Roads - our roads are on everyone's minds. They were in my district, it came up a lot. I'd like to see us earmark 100% of the gas tax and related fees (a total of about $650 Million) to fund road and bridge repair, to allocate DOT funding out of the general fund, to abolish the SC Transportation Commission and move DOT under Executive control, and abolish the State Transportation Infrastructure Bank. As far as I'm concerned, raising taxes or fees of any kind are off the table until we do these things because I am not confident any new funds would not be wasted in the same way that the old ones have been. There also seems to be a general public expectation that the gas tax pays for roads, but that isn't really true right now. A big part of it funds DOT operations. My positions in greater detail are outlined here.
2. Taxi Regulations - Uber came to town, and instead of celebrating hundreds of new jobs being created in SC's 4 large cities, the Taxi associations want the police to run them out of town. I'd like to repeal the regulations that give the state so much control over this industry and make SC a friendly place for new and innovative business models. It is not government's job to protect established industry players from competition. When the law becomes a tool to these ends, it's time to change the law.
3. Legit ethics reform - we need to repeal any law that sets politicians or candidates apart from everyone else. Dipping into campaign funds for personal use should be considered embezzlement, for instance, and should be treated as such. The law should also be enforced by an independent party, not the House Ethics Committee. We also need to get out of the business of electing judges (allow the voters of SC to pick them instead), and eliminate the FOIA exemption for legislators.
There's plenty more I could list, but I get the fact that we can't do it all, so these are my top 3 for 2015.
My #1 priority will be to fix our roads. Yesterday at the First Monday Club in Anderson I had the opportunity to ask Governor Haley about the roads issue, and particularly my goal to have the DOT placed under the Governor’s office and eliminate two duplicate, unelected boards.
Gov. Haley wholeheartedly endorsed the idea and then went on to add:
“We don’t have to raise taxes to do it. The money is there.”
Click to hear her full answer
Governor Haley is right: we can do this without raising taxes. I am happy that she supports my solution to fixing our roads and I look forward to working with her in Columbia!
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!
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.”
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.
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.
I believe we can meet or exceed that goal by doing the following:
- Allocate 100% of gas tax and related fees to roads (currently about $640 million).
- Fund DOT overhead from the general fund at a reasonable level, and if necessary force DOT to streamline operations and cut costs.
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…
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.”
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.
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.
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.