I marked a cross-country drive off my bucket list last October. While driving the more than 1,800 highway miles—some pitted, some smooth—along interstates 20 and 40 between South Carolina and Arizona I wondered about the gas tax rates of each state I drove through.
For part of the trip I was stuck on a narrow strip of interstate between two concrete walls in Arkansas, whose state gas tax rate is 21.5 cents per gallon. Crews in that state were busy fixing the interstate. Potholes dotted I-40 West heading into Oklahoma City, where Oklahoma residents pay 17 cents per gallon. Arizona roadways, where drivers pay 18 cents per gallon, were fairly smooth.
South Carolina enjoys one of the lowest rates in the nation of 16.75 cents per gallon. But for elected officials tasked with funding road repairs, the rate isn’t enough to fix roads and bridges in the state. While state officials look for a solution to funding road repairs with the state tax and federal gas tax—18.4 cents per gallon—some counties are beginning to take road repairs into their own hands.
In Lexington county, voters will be asked on Tuesday whether to self-impose an additional one-cent sales tax. The majority of the estimated revenue—$290 million over eight years—is slated for road repairs, if voters approve the referendum.
With every gash I come across in our county, state and federal roads, I’m reminded of our desperate need to fix our roads. But for me that need doesn’t come at any cost. I’ll be voting no tomorrow on the penny tax because for my family, every penny counts.
But there’s another reason not to vote for the penny. Government at every level is a natural when it comes to inefficiency.
By some estimates, the federal government spends a large portion of federal highway funds on scenic trails and other non-highway expenses. Not all state revenue goes to road repairs either. Past state budgets set aside funds for economic development.
If voters approve the penny tax on Tuesday, not all funds will go to road improvements. Approximately 15 percent of funding is targeted for miscellaneous projects like bike paths.
Government has a history of spending road funding on non-highway expenses and later coming up short on road repairs. I don’t plan on helping history repeat itself.