After a vocal group of anti-tax advocates said they didn’t want to pay more than the state’s 16 cents-a-gallon tax at the pump, and after officials from across several state agencies said pulling $400 million annually from the General Fund wouldn’t work, top lawmakers hatched another plan to fix South Carolina’s roads.
The $2.2 billion borrowing plan was a good “first step,” several legislators have said, toward repairing the state’s pot hole-riddled transportation system.
With just three days remaining on the legislative calendar, senators will have to decide whether to agree with the $2.2 billion funding plan the House has passed.
The plan diverts $200 million in fees from the Department of Motor Vehicles to the Transportation Department, which the agency would leverage into bonds issued by the State Infrastructure Bank.
The Senate passed a similar borrowing plan in April. Like the House plan, it would let the SCDOT identify projects based on counties’ needs and would make the SIB responsible for issuing bonds.
The House tacked onto its version a reform proposal that would let the governor appoint eight members to the SCDOT Commission. The commission would be tasked with appointing an agency secretary.
Currently the governor appoints the secretary and one at-large commissioner, and lawmakers appoint the other seven commissioners.
Under the House plan, those commissioners would be subject to approval by both chambers. Several senators had previously said the Senate alone should bear that responsibility.
Four takeaways from the funding plans
-Activists showed stronger opposition to a gas tax increase than to indebtedness. Over the past year, activists trying to stop a potential gas tax held several rallies at the pump to show the public how much they were paying in taxes already. Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, held a filibuster to block an increase during the first several weeks of the session. A Senate plan to fund roads with $400 million in general funds annually was the result of combined public pressure and stalling in the chamber.
To be clear, there was some buzz among activist groups and legislators critical of taking on debt. But there were no tireless campaigns or weeks-long filibusters to stop it.
–The $2.2 billion borrowing plan won’t fix all the state’s road woes. The SCDOT has said it needs $1.2 billion per year to bring the state’s 41,000 miles of roads and 8,000-plus bridges up to par.
–Top state lawmakers will have a central role in the approval process for projects. If lawmakers concur on the plans, the State Infrastructure Bank and the Joint Bond Review Committee will be involved. The agencies don’t have a say in setting priorities under both plans. But they oversee lending and bond approval.
Rep. Chip Limehouse, R-Charleston, serves on the SIB. Head of the House’s budget committee, Rep. Brian White, R-Anderson, serves on the JBRC. Head of the Senate’s budget committee, Sen. Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, serves on both.
–We won’t see funding for roads without a mechanism to restructure the SCDOT. Several attempts at funding roads this year have included plans to restructure the agency. The most recent plans are no exception. In April, the Legislative Audit Council released an extensive report on the agency that revealed weak spots in its governance, funding stream, prioritization and transparency.