Nobody knows how to roll a grenade into a crowded room like Chip Limehouse.
The veteran Charleston lawmaker has written a budget proviso that would require cities to give 35 percent of their parking and ticket revenues from state-owned roads to the state. "The state is responsible for fixing those roads and assumes all liability associated with them," Limehouse said.
Talk about starting a fight. The city of Charleston, which treats its parking spaces like pallets of gold (and they are, in terms of revenue), would lose more than $1 million if this happened. Think about it: Most of the prime parking areas in this city -- King, Meeting, East Bay and Broad streets -- are all technically along state roads.
That parking revenue is no small part of why this city operates without raising taxes. Which might explain why Charleston officials are all about killing this. And that's fine with Limehouse. The whole idea of trial balloons -- or live grenades -- is to get people talking.
And he's absolutely right. We need to talk about the problem with roads in this state.
One big pothole
Whether or not this idea flies, Limehouse has raised a serious issue.
Just wrap your head around this: South Carolina has more than 91 miles of state-maintained highways for every 10,000 residents -- one of the highest ratios of any state.
That's a lot of roads. A lot of roads that aren't being fixed. South Carolina spends $34,000 per mile of road it maintains, while New Jersey spends more than $1 million -- and no one who's driven the Jersey Turnpike is trumpeting its unparalleled smoothness.
Right now, the state Department of Transportation is running a backlog on road projects that some say is $1 billion or more. That will come as news to absolutely no one who's driven around this place lately.
"This state is one big pothole," Limehouse said. "The last four or five governors and Legislatures have kicked the can down the road, and nothing is getting done. We need to know: What is the plan for the roads?"
Uh, we don't have one.
No free ride?
The DOT largely relies on the gasoline tax to fix roads, and South Carolina has the fourth-lowest gas tax in the country.
That, Limehouse said, isn't going to change anytime soon. No one in the Legislature or the governor's office is going to raise a tax -- especially one that's so noticeable.
But that means that road projects are just going to continue to pile up.
"If we don't remedy this, as soon as the economy comes back, it's going to be gridlock around here," Limehouse said.
He's right, we've got to do something. If it's not a gas tax hike, and it's not cribbing parking money from the cities, the state has to find another solution. And soon, before insanity kicks in. Last week, some people actually mentioned the T word, as in charging folks to drive on Interstate 95. That's not a good idea -- this isn't Jersey.
It's time to quit kicking the can down the road, before the road tolls for us.