For the last several years plans to properly fund the maintenance and expansion of our state’s roads have been short-circuited in the S.C. Senate by road plan opponents. Due to their stubbornness, only piecemeal solutions, the legislative equivalent of Interstate 95’s stop-and-go traffic, have been advanced.
As debate begins again this week, opponents of a long-term plan will throw out a myriad of reasons why the fuel tax should not be increased. They’ll claim that current funding, from the second-lowest fuel tax in the country, is more than adequate. Like border collies, they’ll circle back again and again to the State Infrastructure Bank to convince you that the one-cent-per-gallon tax sent there is the source of all that ails S.C. drivers. Then they will make a nonsensical argument that while S.C. Department of Transportation Secretary Christy Hall does a great job in managing agency, it’s still a disaster.
However, what you aren’t likely to hear from opponents is:
▪ Last year SCDOT was ranked No.1 in the nation for cost effectiveness among DOTs by the conservative-leaning Reason Foundation. The previous year the agency ranked No.4.
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▪ By blocking an increase in the fuel tax they, by default, endorse the continued subsidization of out-of-state drivers and tractor-trailers by South Carolinians. Did you know all those out-of-state big rigs are paying S.C.’s ultra-low fuel tax for each road mile they drive? One 80,000-pound rig does the same damage as hundreds of cars, but road plan opponents apparently have found one source of welfare of which they approve.
▪ Inflation exists. One will never hear funding opponents acknowledge there has been significant inflation in the cost of resurfacing and expanding roads since the fuel tax was last increased in 1987. The inconvenient fact that vehicles get twice the miles per gallon today as then, thereby using the roads twice as much for far fewer inflation-adjusted tax dollars.
▪ South Carolina has the fourth-highest number of miles of state-maintained roads in the nation. Opponents may advocate giving some of these roads to counties. Good idea, but what about the funding to go with them? From where is that going to come? Never mind.
▪ Fuel prices are way down and likely to stay down due to American engineering ingenuity used to extract domestic oil in recent years. This makes an increase much more affordable for drivers than a decade ago.
▪ Most Infrastructure Bank-assisted projects have been invaluable to our state. Yes, change is needed in appointment of its board, but can you imagine driving today over the old Grace Memorial Bridge in charleston? Without the Bank, you would be. Would York County be a leading county for growth in the United States were it not for the widening of I-77 to eight lanes made possible by their matching funds to the Bank?
Incidentally, how is North Carolina coming on widening I-77 in an area north of Charlotte as equidistant to it as Rock Hill? Ten years after S.C. widened its side of the I-77, Charlotte has only four lanes between there and Lake Norman. North Carolina’s solution is putting in toll lanes that will cost drivers up to $20 per trip.
As mentioned, road-fund opponents heap praise on Secretary Hall’s management of the agency, but conveniently ignore her plea that without revenue supplied by a reasonable fuel tax increase, repair and expansion costs will swell by $300 million per year. They lament the percentage of SCDOT funding that goes toward personnel expense, but are seemingly unaware that SCDOT employees also work on roads.
No, you won’t hear these arguments acknowledged because they don’t fit road-plan opponents’ narrative that SCDOT perfection (and their re-election) must be achieved before S.C. drivers can get relief from worn-out roads and congestion. Alas, ideology doesn’t move traffic smoothly, but good roads do.
Which is it that you want more of?
State Sen. Greg Gregory, R-Lancaster, represents District 16, which includes parts of York and Lancaster counties.