I generally think it’s a good idea for South Carolina to accept federal dollars to improve our state. After all, we get back about $1.35 in federal funds for every $1 we pay in federal taxes. Who would not buy into that deal, especially for something as important as making it safer for children to get to school?
However, the S.C. Department of Transportation seems to be an agency that can make that math a bad deal. The problem occurs when those federal dollars don’t end up being used for their intended purpose and we get less than our $1.35 in benefit from the state entity that receives the federal dollars. The math becomes even more troublesome when we cannot even get our original $1 back in benefit.
As noted in The State, Post and Courier and Greenville News, the department received $14 million in federal money to implement infrastructure plans approved for 23 schools in the federal safe routes to schools program, going back to 2007. Those articles noted that only one of those schools had received the infrastructure support it was due from the Transportation Department.
Normally I would assume that this is mismanagement and the projects are just way behind schedule. However, the agency was very efficient in using monies set aside for education projects in the first schools’ successful grants to set up a resource center that helped more schools get grants, expanding the three initial grants to 23.
Unfortunately that efficiency has not translated into any infrastructure support at the first school whose proposal was accepted, Rosewood Elementary, or at 21 of the 22 others. Clearly the Transportation Department places more value on capturing federal dollars than on using them to help our state.
If we can’t even get one safe crosswalk out of an agency with $14 million of federal money to spend for that purpose, how can we trust it with billions of our own state dollars?
When it comes to the Transportation Department, it’s better to spend no money than to waste it all.