S.C. Wants $2B for Roads

Senators said April 19 they like the idea of raising more than $2 billion for one-time spending on road construction projects.

📅   Wed May 11, 2016 - Southeast Edition
Seanna Adcox - ASSOCIATED PRESS


Senators said April 19 they like the idea of raising more than $2 billion for one-time spending on road construction projects.
Senators said April 19 they like the idea of raising more than $2 billion for one-time spending on road construction projects.

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) Senators said April 19 they like the idea of raising more than $2 billion for one-time spending on road construction projects, but they disagreed over how the money would be spent.

Bills discussed by the Senate Finance Committee would send $200 million to the State Infrastructure Bank, for borrowing an estimated $2.2 billion.

Senate President Pro Tem Hugh Leatherman said the leveraging move is an opportunity to pump as much money into South Carolina's crumbling roads as possible. He said his bills offer a one-time boost, not a funding solution.

Under his plan, $1.2 billion would be spent on improving and widening interstates and $800 million would go to what he called “rural roads,' though that could include non-interstate four-lane highways.

“This is one way to not only help our interstates but how these rural roads throughout South Carolina will get some attention,' said Leatherman, R-Florence, adding that he recently drove U.S. 76 from Sumter to Florence. “This state ought to be ashamed to have a major U.S. highway in the shape that part of that road's in.'

Senators debated how the projects funded by the money would be chosen and how large they could be.

Some worry the money will be gobbled up by urban projects.

“We cannot continue to disinvest in the rural areas,' said Sen. John Matthews, D-Bowman. “We have got to find a way to help small counties develop economically.'

Senators did agree, however, that work should be on existing roadways. An approved amendment effectively bars using the money to extend Interstate 526 in Charleston County or build the long-debated Interstate 73 to Myrtle Beach.

One bill would transfer certain fees and fines collected by the Department of Motor Vehicles to the infrastructure bank. The other would reallocate vehicle sales taxes, which are capped at $300 per vehicle.

That recurring money would eventually pay for the bonded projects.

The DOT has said it needs more than $1 billion additional annually for three decades to bring the state's roadways to good condition. The nation's fourth-largest highway system is primarily funded by the nation's third-lowest gas tax — unchanged since 1987 — and the federal match money that provides.

South Carolina ranks at the bottom nationally in investing in its roads. Since 2008, the percentage of the state's roads falling into poor condition has increased significantly, causing repair costs to skyrocket, according to a Legislative Audit Council report released in April.

The House's budget plan puts $415 million toward roads, though $49 million of that covers work already done to repair roads closed by last fall's flooding.

After nearly two years of debate, a separate road-funding proposal has largely been reduced to a government restructuring bill. Gov. Nikki Haley wants full control of the DOT, which is now overseen by both a secretary appointed by the governor and a commission appointed by legislators.

Under the Senate version, Haley would get to choose all commissioners, with approval from the Senate. The House amended the bill to give that chamber a vote in the confirmation process too.

The Senate's vote not to accept those changes will send the bill to a six-member legislative panel to try to work out a compromise.