DON’T COUNT ON IT.
State lawmakers want to raise the gas tax – badly. Legislative leaders are claiming, and have been claiming for over a year, that a tax increase is the only way to begin repairing the state’s dreadful road system. A passel of interest groups is urging the ordinarily tax-averse majority to go through with it, and indeed the House already voted by a wide margin to raise the tax on fuel. Now the bill goes to the Senate, where members have been so eager to raise the revenue that they’ve been willing to toss the state constitution.
Lawmakers don’t just want to raise taxes in order to pay for road repair. They want to do it without in any significant way reforming the backward, unaccountable, legislature-dominated system that created the present mess in the first place.
The important question, then, is this: Will the money lawmakers want to take out of the private economy through tax increases actually make it to the potholes-laden back roads, cracked highways, decrepit bridges, and crumbling medians that need repair so badly? Once citizens are paying more for gas (or more for licenses and vehicle registrations), will roads like Highway 1 between Camden and Cheraw – a road that many third-world countries would be ashamed of – actually be repaired?
South Carolinians may be forgiven for remaining skeptical.
Take, for instance, Barbara, a constituent of Rep. Rita Allison. Barbara asked Rep. Allison via Facebook this reasonable question: “Will there be someone making sure the money is spent where it needs to be? Interstate 85 is so bad it is unreal. Thank you for all you do!!”
Rep. Allison answered, “I 85 is a federally funded road … that is what the Oversight Committee is doing … yes, roads are bad” (ellipsis in original).
Another constituent, Janice, piped up: “Ok now I’m confused! Exactly where will this gas tax money be going? If there is a tax on county roads and now the interstates are federally funded then why so much of an increase on gas tax?”
Rep. Allison’s answer: “This is for state roads in SC. Hwy 29 is a state road … Lawrence Street in Lyman … most roads in the state … Holly Springs Rd. In fact a lot of people live on state roads … confusing I know … most that have yellow lines down the middle … thanks.”
OK, so we can’t repair “federally funded” roads with the money we raise to repair roads. Why not? Because federal money can’t be used for routine maintenance. And since the state Department of Transportation is constantly trying to draw down more federal match money, that means a lot of roads we use every day – roads that “have yellow lines down the middle” – just won’t be fixed.
Meanwhile, activists have begun to ask their lawmakers whether certain roads will or won’t be fixed if the legislature moves ahead with a tax hike. “I sure would like to know if my road, Hermitage Road, would get resurfaced as a result of the higher taxes,” Lexington County activist Talbert Black tells us. “It’s absolutely full of pot holes. And Redmond Road and McCartha Road – I travel on those quite a bit – they’re awful. Will they be fixed? Oh, and the Calks Ferry Road Bridge over I-20 – there are more pot holes that have been filled with tar and asphalt than concrete. Truly scary stuff.”
Upsate resident Robbie Bowen, similarly, is asking lawmakers about some dire roads near his home. “There are some truly terrible potholes on Rainbow Lake Road in Boiling Springs. I-85 North of Boiling Springs needs a lot of work, as does Highway 29 from Spartanburg to Greenville. Given the current lack of SCDOT transparency, it’s hard to say if any of these will be repaired. Based on the State Transporation Infrastructure Bank’s [STIB’s] recent tendency to ignore Spartanburg County, I’m guessing they won’t be a very high priority. But I plan to ask my State House lawmakers about it.”
The recent tax hike bill passed by the House and now in the Senate Finance Committee, meanwhile, doesn’t offer these and likeminded citizens much hope. It doubles the amount allocated to the STIB, which is barred from spending its funds on routine maintenance. It only funds new and expansionary projects. Meaning – again – that a lot of this money simply isn’t going to fix our roads. It will fund new projects and expansions in politically influential areas, for sure, but probably not that wretched excuse for a state road you drive on to work every day.
Are there roads you’d like to ask public officials about? Send an email to email@example.com and, if you can, a photo of the road.