GET READY TO PAY MORE FOR BAD ROADS
At Tuesday’s Senate Finance Committee meeting, members took up the bill commonly referred to as the “House roads bill.” That’s a slight misnomer: It’s not a roads bill; it’s a tax increase bill.
The legislation passed by the House in April would have drawn more money from taxpayers (around $400 million) and left the state’s road funding system virtually untouched – thus assuring that the state of South Carolina’s transportation infrastructure would remain similarly unchanged. Politically influential counties would continue to receive truckloads of funding for frequently unnecessary expansion projects, while most other state roads would fall to the bottom of the Department of Transportation’s talked-about but never seen and possibly mythical “priority list.”
But back to Senate Finance. The committee completely gutted the House bill and inserted its own text. The new bill, however, is based on exactly the same premise: that South Carolina’s roads and bridges are falling apart because taxpayers haven’t sent enough money to Columbia.
A majority on the committee, in short, believe the whole thing’s a revenue problem – and they refuse to consider the possibility that it could be anything but a revenue problem. That’s why Finance chairman Hugh Leatherman (R-Florence) seemed determined to adjourn the Finance meeting as soon as the House bill’s text was replaced. We got our tax hikes, he seemed to say, now let’s get out of here before we tamper with the system. Indeed, the chairman was uncharacteristically curt with committee members who wanted to prolong debate.
And indeed a few senators offered amendments that would impose modest changes to the current system. The chairman would have none of it; the majority agreed; and the tax-hike-sans-reform bill passed without a change.
Here’s the unhappy truth: Dumping more money into the current funding system – a system run by the legislatively dominated DOT Commission and the legislatively dominated State Transportation Infrastructure Bank, a system over which average citizens have zero control – will not result in more roads and bridges being repaired in more counties that need it. It will result in more extensive status quo.