By Paul Gable
A plan being discussed in the S.C. House to transfer state roads to counties will accomplish nothing in the way of improved maintenance.
Put forward by Rep. Gary Simrill who is chairing the House Transportation, Infrastructure, and Management Ad Hoc Committee, the plan would transfer approximately 50 percent of currently state maintained (or unmaintained as the case may be) roads to county responsibility.
Simrill’s proposal has some talk about fully funding the local government fund and increasing “C” funds, which are a small percentage of state gas tax revenues given back to the counties through County Transportation Committees.
It is expected this proposal will be voted on by Simrill’s House Transportation, Infrastructure and Management Ad Hoc Committee at its scheduled meeting Monday January 12, 2015.
If this proposal moves forward to become law, it will have the effect of transferring roads that the state can’t afford to maintain to counties who can’t afford to maintain them either. There is no dedicated revenue stream to fund this maintenance either at the state or county level.
The General Assembly will be transferring blame for not maintaining the roads rather than providing a solution to improve road maintenance.
State law mandates the General Assembly will send at least 4.5 percent of its general fund budget back to the counties each year. The General Assembly has rarely done so, preferring instead to pass a proviso most years suspending this requirement.
The local government fund is designed to offset cost to the counties of the many unfunded mandates the state has already passed to them.
Promising to fully fund the state’s local government fund does nothing to provide road maintenance funds to the counties as a fully funded local government fund still would not provide the total funds necessary to pay for unfunded mandates already in place.
Increasing “C” funds sent to the counties would only minimally increase road funds and, in most counties, would have to bypass the extra level of bureaucracy (the CTC’s) that are free to use these funds as the committee sees fit. “C” funds have been used for such things as paving private roads and building sidewalks and bike paths rather than real road maintenance.
Simrill’s proposal appears to be nothing more than the typical General Assembly dodge of passing the need to raise taxes (to fund road maintenance) down to the counties so the legislators at the state level can appear blameless.
While the counties wrestle with the problem of maintaining roads and get the blame for raising taxes, state legislators can continue to fund their vacations with campaign funds because they have no challenger to face at the polls.