Budgets - Cuts, Spending and You

Our State Legislators and Tax Increases

By Steve Hoffman

Horry & Georgetown Republican elected state legislators are behaving more like Chicken Little than responsible problem solvers.

We may be a Red State, but our Horry & Georgetown elected Republican state legislators still act like tax and spend Democrats.  This is somewhat surprising after the message that was just sent to the “ruling class” during this past general election.  Donald Trump received more primary votes than just about every Republican candidate running prior to his bid for the presidency.  The populace is definitely tired of tax and spend Republicans and the establishment Republican Party.  Evidently our local elected Republicans did not get the message.

No one would argue against coming up with a plan to fix South Carolina roads as they are in desperate need of repair.  However, the current knee jerk reaction (the sky is falling, the sky is falling, raise taxes!), is not the responsible course of action.  In manufacturing and other successful business entities, when a problem is identified, the company initiates a formal corrective action process.  This process begins by clearly defining the problem and then doing the necessary homework to identify root causes of the problem.  Future containment actions and corrective actions stem from the root cause analysis.

Numerous organizations within South Carolina and some responsible Republican office holders have identified the primary root causes to South Carolina’s bad roads.  These root causes fall into the following categories:

  1. Road funding mechanisms:
    • Complicated mixture of state gas tax revenue, federal funding (cannot be used for routine road maintenance), and debt financing from the State Transportation Infrastructure Bank
    • Not all gas tax revenue goes to road maintenance, portions diverted to County Transportation Funds, Department of Natural Resources Watercraft Fund, and DHEC’s SUPERB Fund.  The amount of money from that current gas tax that is diverted away from road maintenance purposes is significant.
    • More about that State Transportation Infrastructure Bank.  Why borrowing money for roads is a bad idea.  First all those bonds require interest payments.  In 2014 the STIB had to make $90 million on interest and other debt costs (that’s just about twice what the STIB contributed to the DOT ($48.5 million)).  Thus, it spends more on debt than it does on road projects.  And the worst part is that the STIB is not allowed to fund routine maintenance costs, its contributions go to expansionary projects in just a handful of South Carolina counties.  Let me say that another way – your tax dollars pay for $90 million per year to service STIB issued bonds.  A recurring payment that is not going to repair your roads!  What is someone told you that he/she would give you $500 per year and you would only have to pay them $1000 per year.  Good deal?  This is exactly the type of thing that Donald Trump talked about when he told the rallies that our leaders were stupid!

 

  1. Method of prioritizing road projects:
    • Probably the single most significant root cause of our road maintenance problems is the current state government structure for assigning where DOT road maintenance dollars are to be spent.  Hint – it is not based on need, but most likely based on political influence and power.
  • Obviously the state Department of Transportation Secretary of Transportation is responsible for South Carolina’s state road systems. Well, not exactly.  The primary body for allocating SCDOT infrastructure resources is the 8 member DOT commission.  The Governor appoints one member and the other 7 are elected by the state legislative delegates from the seven SC federal Congressional districts.  Sound simple, oops, forgot to mention the role of the JTRC.
  • The JTRC is strictly a legislature controlled body that must screen and approve all members up for election to the DOT commission (including the one selected by the Governor) (did I hear someone ask about separation of powers?). Anyway this team is made up of legislators, legislative appointees, and the chairmen of a select group of powerful legislative committees, and two members appointed by the Senate President Pro Tempore, and three members appointed by the Speaker of the House.  It does not take a rocket scientist to see that transportation funding in our state is controlled by two (yes count them, two) people.  The Speaker of the House and the Senate President Pro Tempore.
  • In Horry County, most of us are pleased with the method of allocating resources resulting from the RIDE tax funding allocation process. It involves a process where experts, government officials, and residents sit on panels to discuss where the money should be spent.  In the end, the needs are well justified.  Maybe that is why we continue to vote for this spending mechanism and we are about to enter the RIDE III phase.  I do not think the people of Horry County would vote for this kind of tax if only 2 people in the county determined where the money was spent.

 

    • Then there is the question of the proportion of state roads that are controlled by this process.  According to the South Carolina Policy Council, there are approximately 65,800 miles of roads in South Carolina, with 63 percent controlled by the state.  Nationwide, a state DOT only controls, on average, 19% of the roads.  Obviously the SCPC is in favor of devolving the process to the local government entities.  They conclude; “Local governments would have better knowledge than a centralized entity of local road conditions.  Further, local governments’ proximity and accountability to the citizens who use the roads in their borders would provide them an incentive not to neglect rural or residential roads that currently receive little attention from DOT. Currently they can simply blame the state – with some justification.  Road devolution would take away that excuse.”
  1. Excessive legislative power over what should be an executive branch function.
    • And finally, the root of what is the basis for many of our state’s problems.  We simply, due to our South Carolina Constitution, do not have a clear separation of powers or checks and balances.  The Executive Branch is little more than a figure head and the Judicial Branch (well that will be left to another editorial).  For now, let’s just say that it is a convenient place to park retired legislators.  The state legislature runs our state, and in most cases, we the taxpayers have little or no recourse but to do as they say and be treated like the subjects that we are.

I would suggest that it is time for our elected representatives to start acting more like responsible problem solvers than Chicken Little.  The sky is NOT falling and there is plenty of time to address the underlying root causes to our state’s crumbling highway infrastructure.  Immediately raising taxes only kicks the real problems down the road (and a pot-holed one at that), and will only result in continued irresponsible spending that ignores road maintenance.

We as the voting public need to stop rewarding our representatives for taking the easy way out and not behaving like problem solvers.  (Vote for me! I got the new by-pass built!)

Call these locally elected Republicans and voice your opposition to an increase in the South Carolina Gas Tax; Sen. Luke Rankin, Sen. Stephen Goldfinch, Rep. Greg Duckworth, Rep. Lee Hewitt, Rep. Jeff Johnson, and Rep. Russell Fry.

Steve Hoffman

Murrells Inlet

 

 

 

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