Opinion Extra

Facts show Richland penny tax is a success

Green Street near the University of South Carolina is being renovated with proceeds from the Richland County transportation penny tax.
Green Street near the University of South Carolina is being renovated with proceeds from the Richland County transportation penny tax. tglantz@thestate.com

Anyone who knows me knows I like to deal with the facts, an element that has been missing from the public discourse about the Richland County Transportation Sales Tax program.

Not only have the facts been obscured, but so have the overall vision and promise of the sales tax program.

What began as a welcome audit of the program has morphed into an effort to undermine one of the best hopes Richland County has of reaching its full economic potential while providing a consistent, quality transit and transportation network that enhances the quality of life for all citizens.

I have not seen any evidence to support claims of illegal activity and corruption on the county’s part. Integrity is extremely important to me, and I take it personally when someone attacks my integrity.

County Council has only followed the will of the people. We haven’t done anything different than what voters requested and approved.

The transportation penny issue was driven by direct citizen and business (Columbia Chamber) involvement more than any other issue during my 25 years of public service. During the discussion of the program, the public vehemently demanded that there be a fair and reasonable opportunity for small local business participation, a public information/involvement program, easy access to program information (website), regular updates and the leveraging of state and federal dollars. Unfortunately, these are the issues of primary concern to the Department of Revenue.

The fact is that a solid foundation has been laid to deliver on the promise of a modern bus system and better roads, bikeways, sidewalks and other special projects that will improve transportation.

The fact is that the COMET, crippled by a 45 percent reduction in service a few years ago, is now flourishing: It has restored lost service, introduced new routes, improved bus stops, adopted new technology to enhance riders’ experience, and more. Ridership has increased 150 percent.

And our roads and sidewalks are being fixed. Already, 76 roads have been paved or resurfaced, and other dirt road paving and resurfacing projects are underway.

The fact is that we’re just getting started. Within the next six months, an array of projects are scheduled for completion, and within the next 12 months, construction totaling approximately $110 million will begin on a number of projects, including improvement to key intersections and construction of sidewalks, bikeways, dirt road projects and 20 miles of resurfacing projects.

The fact is that at a time when state leaders struggle to find a long-term answer to crumbling roads across South Carolina, we in Richland County are actively working to fix our roads. Visit the transportation penny website at richlandpenny.com and view the facts for yourself.

I’ve been working on improving this county’s transportation system for more than a decade, and here’s what I know to be a fact: We in Richland County realized that our transportation network was outdated and crumbling and couldn’t support our 21st century renaissance. Looking to the state or federal government for help wasn’t an option. If we were going to modernize our transportation network, we would have to take our destiny into our own hands.

In 2012, that’s what voters did.

Some have expressed concerns about the way the transportation program has been portrayed as a result of the Department of Revenue audit. But the decisions the council has made have been in good faith and in accordance with the law. As elected officials authorized to ensure the effectiveness and accountability of this program, it’s our sole duty to determine what, if any, changes are needed. I am confident in our ability to do that.

But make no mistake. The penny program is on course. That’s a fact.

Mr. Livingston is a Richland County Council member and chairman of the county’s ad-hoc transportation committee; contact him at Livingstonp@rcgov.us.