Plans to properly fund the maintenance and expansion of our state’s roads have been short-circuited in the Senate for the past several years by road-plan opponents. Due to their stubbornness, only piecemeal solutions — the legislative equivalent of I-95’s stop-and-go traffic — have been advanced.
As debate continues this week, opponents of a long-term plan are throwing out a myriad of reasons to oppose the plan to increase the fuel tax. Some claim that current funding, from the second-lowest fuel tax in the country, is more than adequate. Like border collies, they all 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 argue that while Secretary Christy Hall does a great job in managing Transportation Department, it’s still a disaster.
However, what you aren’t likely to hear from opponents is that:
▪ Last year, the Reason Foundation said our Transportation Department was the most cost-effective in the country. The previous year it was No 4.
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▪ By preventing us from increasing the fuel tax, they by default endorse the continued subsidizing of out-of-state drivers and tractor trailers by South Carolinians. Did you know all those out-of-state big rigs are paying SC’s ultralow 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 that there has been significant inflation in the cost of resurfacing and expanding roads since the fuel tax was last increased 30 years ago, in 1987.
▪ Vehicles get double the miles per gallon today as in 1987, an inconvenient fact that means they use the roads twice as much for the same amount of money — and far fewer inflation-adjusted tax dollars.
▪ South Carolina has the fourth-highest miles of state maintained roads in the country. 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 the way the board is appointed, but can you imagine still driving over the Grace Memorial Bridge today? Without the Infrastructure Bank, you would be. Would York County be a leading county for growth in the United States without the the widening of I-77 to eight lanes made possible by funds from the Infracture Bank? Incidentally, 10 years after we widened our side of I-77, Charlotte still has only four lanes between there and Lake Norman, and it’s putting in toll lanes that will cost drivers up to $20 per trip.
When road-fund opponents heap praise on Secretary Hall’s management of the agency, they conveniently ignore her warning 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 Transportation Department funding that goes toward personnel expense, but are seemingly unaware that those employees also work on roads.
No, you won’t hear any of these facts acknowledged, because they don’t fit road-plan opponents’ narrative that Transportation Department perfection (and their own 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. Good roads do. Which is it that you want more of?
The writer is a S.C. state senator and Lancaster business owner; contact him at email@example.com.