South Carolinians have been led to believe that all the taxes they pay on gas, some $600 million this year, go to improve our roads, bridges and highways. Not true.
Under the current system, more than a quarter of our gas tax revenues never make it to the pavement. They pay for salaries and other overhead at the Transportation Department or are diverted to numerous state agencies for other government functions.
The rest of gas tax revenues are allocated by the Department of Transportation and the State Infrastructure Bank through an inefficient system of parochial politics and patronage created and tightly controlled by powerful legislators. The result? A large portion of the money spent on roads goes to the wrong ones: non-priority roads.
A recent report by the Legislative Audit Council confirms that we have neglected our state’s primary road system. Those are the very roads and highways our people and commercial vehicles use to go to work and to school, to move from town to town. Many of those roads are in terrible condition. And the problem has grown from important to critical to urgent. In fact, I believe we are diverting or misspending more money from the current gas tax than the new proposed gas tax would raise.
I believe it would be a disservice to taxpayers to raise gas taxes for a dysfunctional system and expect a result different from what we’ve been getting — especially when many people can barely keep gas in their vehicles now.
Therefore, I will veto any bill sent to me that increases the burden of gas taxes levied on the families and businesses of South Carolina.
But if a higher gas tax is not the answer, what is? What can we do now to fix our crumbling roads? Public safety and the future of our economy require us to take action now.
My suggestion is to re-write H.3722, known as the bond bill. That legislation would borrow funds to pay for higher education and to support other state agencies.
I realize many of the needs addressed by this bill are important, but they do not rise to the level of urgency we now face with our crumbling roads. That’s why I hope the House will amend H.3722 to redirect those funds, possibly up to $1 billion, to go directly to — and only to — the speedy repairing of our primary system of roads and bridges.
The governor’s fourth pig (or: The problem with his bond-bill plan)
We know that borrowing is not a long-term, preferred or sustainable solution to maintain our roads, bridges and highways. But in the spot we are in now, unless we want to burden our working people with yet another tax, it is our only option.
I am suggesting that because the House has already budgeted and planned to borrow, we should rearrange our priorities for this bond bill so we can begin immediate work on the roads. And then we must completely reform the Transportation Department and enact a long-term funding solution that doesn’t involve raising taxes.
Unless the House bond bill is amended to reflect the higher priorities that are in the public’s interest, I will veto it as well.
I hope these vetoes will be unnecessary. The revenue we would gain by amending the bond bill, along with revenues gained from last year’s bond bill, will help us start building the world-class system of infrastructure that our people and our businesses need. Public safety and our economic future require that we do this as quickly as possible.
Conservative, pro-taxpayer reform is needed to bring efficiency and accountability to the Department of Transportation. Unless we reform that outdated system, we will continue to waste tax dollars and neglect the most important needs for the future prosperity of South Carolina.
Mr. McMaster is South Carolina’s governor; contact him at email@example.com.