Cleary: Leadership needed now on SC road repairs

07/10/2014 12:00 AM

07/09/2014 3:26 PM

According to a January review by the state Department of Transportation, only 15 percent of South Carolina roads are in good condition. How is this possible, and why hasn’t it been addressed?

It should be the responsibility of the Legislature, with the governor’s leadership, to provide South Carolinians with safe and adequate roads. After being in office for nearly four years and having proposed annual budgets to the Legislature, Gov. Nikki Haley ought to be familiar enough with state funds to design a plan that addresses the unacceptable condition of our roads and bridges. But the governor recently told South Carolinians to wait until next year to hear what her plan will be. Can we afford to wait?

The Legislature and the public deserve and expect to know now just how the governor plans on tackling this critical problem. Where will the funding come from? Which roads will receive priority?

Having served as the Senate subcommittee chairman on road funding and repair, I realize it will be a difficult task, and one that will require significant leadership. It cannot be accomplished through raising revenues alone. (Last year we had about $300 million we could have used — not even a quarter of the $1.4 billion needed each year.) Taxpayers cannot bear this entire burden. It also cannot be accomplished by “indexing” or increasing the fee on gas (although this option does lessen the burden on South Carolinians, with 34 percent of such revenue expected to come from tourists and other out-of-staters).

And if the governor attempts to fund projects only from raising revenue, what happens to the other needs of the state? We’re already providing local governments $74 million less each year than the law requires; we’ve cut funding to technical colleges 40 percent in the past five years; Clemson gets just 7 percent of its funding from the state, Coastal Carolina just 4 percent; we need to pay teachers better salaries and provide corporate and personal income tax relief, and the list goes on.

Playing politics on this important issue is unacceptable. Voters deserve to know the governor’s plan for how to fix and improve our roads now, not next year. Waiting until after the elections to put forth a plan is unacceptable.

I expect to be held accountable for my actions, as do other members of the Legislature. It is important that we have leadership now, because our citizens’ safety and our state's commerce depend upon it.

Sen. Ray Cleary

Murrells Inlet

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