HICKS COLUMN: Don't bank on shutting down the SIB
Apparently it's still fashionable to hate Charleston out in the hinterlands.
A bipartisan duo of South Carolina lawmakers is trying to dissolve the Charleston highway fund, aka the State Infrastructure Bank.
The problem, they say, is that since the bank started 15 years ago, Charleston, Myrtle Beach and Greenville have gotten about two-thirds of the money it has doled out.
Well, duh. That's where all the action is in this state.
To be fair, all we've gotten from the bank is $325 million for the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge; $88 million to keep the Crosstown above water; and $550 million to finish Interstate 526 across Johns and James islands.
That's not even $1 billion. Close, but not quite, yet apparently some people think this is unfair.
“The (State Infrastructure Bank) has been force-feeding asphalt to the coast, while the Upstate and many rural areas starve,” says Sen. Harvey Peeler, the Senate Majority Leader.
Obviously, he needs a road somewhere in peach country.
It's the growth ...
True, the S.C. Department of Transportation needs about $30 billion to fix all the state's roads.
That's no surprise to anyone who drives. And nobody would oppose fixing our roads, except maybe the front-end-alignment lobby.
But the Infrastructure Bank doesn't pave roads. It was established to fund monumental road projects that local communities can't pay for alone.
Dana Beach of the Coastal Conservation League stirred up these guys, saying the board is too political. He's right, there are politics at play here. No surprise there.
But major road projects are needed where there is major growth. Nobody is screaming about Bamberg's need for a $500 million bypass.
The needs of the many?
Sen. Vincent Sheheen, the once and perhaps future candidate for governor, is working with Peeler on this.
Sheheen says the Infrastructure Bank can dole out billions on the orders of a few people, who give most of it to a few counties.
But comparing this to the DOT's road-repair fund is apples to bananas. The DOT apparently can't fill in potholes, so there's little hope it could have paid for the Carolina Bays Parkway in Myrtle Beach. Come on, that road drives one of this state's biggest economic engines: Ohio and West Virginia tourism.
The good news for Charleston is that this scheme to shut down the State Infrastructure Bank is doomed to fail. Even if Peeler can get his Senate majority to go along with it, the idea will likely die a quick death in the state House, where Charleston, uh, Speaker Bobby Harrell rules.
It wouldn't be a bad thing for the Legislative Audit Council to take a look at the bank, if for no other reason than to make sure its decisions have at least some basis in logic. Let's not slight anyone who needs a big bridge or a bypass.
But no need to shut down the whole bank.
We probably need more than $1 billion just to fix the roads around the Interstate 26-526 interchange.
Where else are we going to get that kind of money?
Reach Brian Hicks at email@example.com.