SCDOT Will Soon Be Broke Without Infusion of Cash

Fri September 02, 2011 - Southeast Edition

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) South Carolina’s Transportation Department will be broke within a matter of weeks unless the federal government agrees to help.

The Post and Courier of Charleston reported that DOT had $28.3 million on hand August 12 and nearly $120 million in immediate outstanding debts. This means salaries for DOT workers and payment to contractors who build and repair highways are on the line.

SCDOT still must pay $8 million in payroll expenses left in August and $12.6 million to the state Transportation Infrastructure Bank to get current on major construction loans. That leaves the agency with about $8 million left to pay toward the $98 million it owes contractors, consultants, utilities and others.

An expected $28 million deposit from the Federal Highway Administration won’t be enough. So the agency has asked the federal government for an additional $52 million in speeded up highway construction reimbursements. SCDOT took that action after a Post and Courier story revealed the agency’s money woes.

The agency had the support of Gov. Nikki Haley, who oversees SCDOT, when it chose that path over borrowing money from the state treasury.

Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey said borrowing the money costs the taxpayers more money because of the interest that must be paid.

Transportation Commissioner Sarah Nuckles said the agency should have an open line of credit through the state treasury as a backup for cash flow problems. The problems, uncovered in 2006, were supposed to have been corrected through a legislative overhaul of the agency. SCDOT needs a contingency plan for emergencies, such as a hurricane or sharp spike in oil prices, she said.

SCDOT spokesman Pete Poore said Aug. 12 the agency anticipates $28 million in regularly scheduled federal reimbursements and another $52 million in accelerated payouts.

Poore has said the financial problems are a combination of the demands on the agency during the peak summer construction months and the economic drag on both state and federal gasoline taxes, which fund the SCDOT.

Nuckles said poor planning is to blame.