Analysts recently announced that Rock Hill’s gasoline prices are the lowest in the nation. And that’s good news.
But those rejoicing at the low prices at the pump need to reflect on the fact that one of the big reasons those prices are so low is that South Carolina’s 16-cent-per-gallon state gasoline tax is among the lowest in the nation, and it hasn’t been increased since 1987.
That also helps explain why the state can’t afford to maintain its roads and bridges. And that’s not good news.
Because of the unwillingness of the state’s leaders to address this issue, local governments are looking for ways to tackle crumbling roads themselves. For example, the Lancaster County Council recently scheduled a referendum that will appear on the Nov. 4 ballot asking voters to approve renewal of a 1-cent sales tax whose proceeds would be used to repair both state and county roads throughout the county.
The county currently has a 1-cent sales tax that’s paying for a new courthouse. But that tax is set to expire in October 2015.
County officials hope to continue the tax for another six years and use a majority of the proceeds to pay for road repairs. The plan is to spend $27.4 million of the projected $41.7 million raised by the tax on roads.
State officials estimate that 85 percent of nearly 900 miles of state-controlled roads in Lancaster County need repairs. But the state won’t allocate the money to pay for them.
This is an epic failure of leadership at the state level that affects every county and municipality in the state. The state Department of Transportation estimates that it would take $1.5 billion a year for the next 20 years to bring the state’s roads up to standard, and the Legislature has not offered any credible plan to meet that need – or even come close.
Neither has Gov. Nikki Haley. She said she would share her plan for fixing the state’s roads sometime in January, assuming she is re-elected.
Unfortunately, that deprives voters of the chance to assess her plan – if it exists – as part of the gubernatorial election. Roads ought to be at the top of the list of topics debated in this campaign.
Her Democratic challenger, state Sen. Vincent Sheheen of Camden, has offered a plan of sorts. But it relies entirely on diverting 5 percent of the state’s general fund and surplus revenue to roads, which would produce only about $350 million, far short of what is needed to catch up.
Among candidates for governor, only Tom Ervin, a petition candidate, supports increasing the gas tax.
It’s no wonder that some local governments are seeking solutions of their own. As state leaders twiddle their thumbs, roads become more worn, potholes get deeper and damage to vehicles increases.
This is an election year. Voters should demand answers from candidates regarding the sorry state of our roads.
The logical starting point is raising the gas tax.