As the General Assembly prepares to convene in January, the body will have to begin deciding how to better fund maintenance for the more than 41,000 miles of state-maintained roads.
The state faces an annual $1.47 billion funding gap for highways, bridges and transit, according to the South Carolina Department of Transportation.
Local officials on Tuesday chafed at a notion put forth by a House committee for counties to maintain some state roads.
Rep. Gary Simrill, R-Rock Hill, heads the committee. “We’re not rushed necessarily to get a bill,” he said. “We want to get it right.”
And what can lawmakers do to get it right?
No one has come up with a solution that raises enough revenue and satisfies the taxpayers that use the roads.
Officials are mulling sources for additional revenue. According to a report by WJBF in Augusta, lawmakers have said a $283 million budget surplus should be prioritized towards roads. But that surplus wouldn’t close the funding gap.
Some lawmakers last year pushed for raising taxes to fund road improvements, though the legislature took no significant action. But Republican Gov. Nikki Haley has said she would veto any gas tax increase.
And voters in Lexington and Greenville counties rejected at the ballot box local option sales taxes aimed at road improvements in November.
Whether the political climate is right statewide for a tax increase remains to be seen.
But inflation-adjusted data published by the Census Bureau in September suggests it might not be. The median household income in South Carolina in 2013 was $43,749, down from $44,401 the previous year. The median in 2007 was $44,213.
As prices go up, people have to do more with less income, shaving off the margins of their household budgets.
The General Assembly might have to consider doing the same next year when government agencies come to the trough with their budget requests.
For some people, the margins are so thin that an increased tax burden may not be feasible. It’s time for lawmakers to consider ways to do more with less. Whether they increase road funding depends on how big a priority our roads are.