Letter | Sen. Cleary: State legislators robbing Peter to pay Paul

10/01/2013 5:18 PM

10/01/2013 5:20 PM

South Carolina is today faced with a $29 billion shortfall in transportation infrastructure -- a situation that is jeopardizing the safety and economic security of our citizens. That's twenty-nine billion with a capital “B”.

If tradition holds, your State legislators will try to find a way to kick the can down the road again. Unfortunately, doing so now will turn a serious problem into a crisis because we have reached a point in time at which the condition of our roads and infrastructure has gone from poor to potentially dangerous.

The outcry is always the same: we need to run State Government more like a business...more efficiently with a reduction of waste. But in Columbia, we never live by that motto. We replace common sense and sound economic practices with short-sighted decisions that will make voters happy today but broke tomorrow. And when we don't kick the can down the road and claim we've saved you tax dollars, we do something even worse: We “rob Peter to pay Paul.” Ask yourself if any successful business would ever allow its' own buildings to crumble and collapse...or choose not to change the oil in its' fleet of trucks to save money? It's time for a change, time for common sense and time for you, the public to become actively involved because legislation must be forthcoming. Otherwise, we'll just keep repeating the same mistakes.

For example, the Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) wanted to add a charge of about two pennies per day per bed to residential nursing homes to cover the cost of critical inspections -- 2 cents a day. The inspection fees were last adjusted in 1992 and the result today is that DHEC runs an inspection shortfall more than $260,000. But did your Legislature approve the fee adjustment -- a whopping $7.30 annually? No -- we kicked the can. Later your General Assembly attempted to take funds from beach renourishment to make up the shortage -- trying to rob Peter to pay Paul.

Not long ago, we funded higher education at approximately 55 percent to 60 percent. Today, monies have been diverted to K-12 and South Carolina college funding is only 5 percent to11 percent. Other examples will fill a newspaper. “Robbing Peter to pay Paul” is just not a good business model.

Today, the people who brought you “Kick the Can” and “Rob Peter” are attempting to use the very same tired and failed methods to fix our $29 billion road fund shortfall -- this time taking revenues from the General Fund. There is little doubt that we can and probably should use some of the new General Fund revenues to whittle away at road maintenance we have put off for years; it is unrealistic, unconscionable and impossible for the General Fund to totally fund our road needs now and in the future.

In January, a Senate Finance Subcommittee will share its comprehensive plan to solve those issues without the use of Band-Aids. For your own safety and economic well-being, I implore you to read future editorials and other communications from the committee as we develop a reasonable plan to solve this critical need of our state.

We welcome your suggestions and ideas and we pray that both the governor and the House of Representatives will share all the best ideas. In future editorials and letters, we will divide SCDOT needs into four categories (Routine Maintenance, Bridges, Pavement, and Capacity) plus years of Deferred Maintenance and seek ways to decrease SCDOT's mileage responsibility.

As of 2013, your state highway system includes 13,500 roads, which are less than 1/4 mile in length. With your help, we will hope to come up with suggestions of how to fund these critical needs without leaving the payments to our children to inherit due to our legacy of inaction.

Of course, the real and final debate will occur in January when and if we are allowed to formally debate the bill and your suggestions, and then vote on the best solutions. One thing is for certain, the Band-Aid approaches -- ”kicking the can down the road” or “robbing Peter to pay Paul” -- will never be a part of a solution.

The writer represents S.C. Senate District 34, which includes parts of Georgetown, Charleston, and Horry counties

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