Your gas tax went up by two cents per gallon—or 32 cents for a 16-gallon tank—last Saturday. And with the hike, which likely went unnoticed because of receding gas prices, publications highlighted a flurry of news reports promoting the state Transportation Department’s plans to improve rural road safety.
Similar reports minimizing the increase also underscored the barely-felt impact of the gas tax hike, which is set to increase by 12 cents over six years under a new law that also loosely restructures transportation oversight.
Columbia-area gas prices in July have been less than $1.90 per gallon, down from a 2017 peak of $2.13 in April, according to the gas price-tracking website, gasbuddy.com.
When compared to what drivers paid for gas three months earlier, most probably didn’t notice the increase.
Drivers can save receipts to offset expenses while officials phase in the increase.
But a few pitfalls come with being too carefree about the new law, and corresponding tax hike—
Thinking the new roads funding will ultimately fix rural traffic safety
The SCDOT plans to target rural road safety with $50 million of the new revenue—$600 million annually, once the tax increase is fully phased in.
More than 6,800 crashes caused a death or serious injury along the state’s rural corridors from 2011 to 2015.
The agency has said it plans to use the added money for rumble strips, guard rails, and other life-saving measures to give drivers a better chance of returning to the roadway.
Sixty-one percent of serious crashes on rural roads from 2011 to 2015 involved a roadway departure, according to data collected by the agency.
The data also shows a variety of other factors influencing death or serious injury along rural roads, including—
-48 percent of crashes happened at night
-45 percent involved a collision with a fixed object
-41 percent were speed related
-27 percent involved an intoxicated driver
Not knowing who to hold accountable, or how
The new law lets the governor appoint and remove all nine members of the DOT Commission, up from one at-large appointee, previously. The appointments are subject to legislative approval.
Historically, road money has flowed into top legislators’ districts. The change does little to stop that, critics have said.
So, who are constituents supposed to call over the next decade if they fail to see critical improvements in their districts?
Previously, the commission was appointed legislatively. Under the new structure, lawmakers share less responsibility, but still hold influence over the commission.
Thinking a 12-cent tax hike is enough
It’s impossible to tell when the next call for more funding will come. But since roads funding is subject to the laws of government funding and spending, and not to market forces, it will come. By the SCDOT’s own admission, it will likely come.
The added recurring revenue falls short of the more than $1 billion the agency has said it needs to bring roads and bridges up to par.
While we won’t argue the obvious need for repairs to the state’s roadways, the new law, which eases drivers into paying a twelve-cents-a-gallon tax increase, raises revenue without fixing the problems that led to where we are today.
It’s going to be more difficult to push past the measly hard-won reforms the next time the call for more revenue comes around.