Don’t miss 2015 chance for road fix

A motorist avoids pot holes in Mount Pleasant. (Brad Nettles/File)

A large coalition of statewide associations and local chambers with personal and business road-user constituencies sent a letter to the General Assembly urging it to pass a real road-fix bill this session.

Piecemeal funding was provided in 2013 from budget re-directs, appropriations and one-time surpluses. But long-delayed maintenance and needed major upgrades will cost hundreds of millions more than can be taken from existing state funds.

Basic needs are a fiscal reality, confirmed by objective, rational analysis. We’ve done the analysis, and we represent groups that dislike government regulation and taxation as much or more than any.

Politically inseparable issues like the S.C. Department of Transportation’s structure, and DOT reform, how to reduce the number of roads the state should be responsible for, and tax cuts further complicate matters.

We assured the Legislature that we support the current system of user-fee-based financing of road infrastructure — because businesses and citizens demand services and have been willing to pay for them when the fees are direct, dedicated, fairly apportioned and efficiently administered.

It’s been an entire generation since our citizens agreed to pay more for the use of our road system. Our current user-fees do not adjust for inflation unlike other tax revenues that ride up with values and prices. Hence, the buying power of these user fees has been greatly diminished and we are now literally paying the price for inaction, in a myriad of other ways.

Adjusting these user fees would provide the investment capital required for more modern, safe and efficient road systems which serve our citizens and their commerce.

So we urge the Legislature to act on this initiative in this 2015 session because if lawmakers don’t, it will likely be years before they can. Here’s why:

Early next year our state will be one of the Republican presidential primary epicenters, and big-money groups will be here ginning up their bases, railing against (federal) government spending. They will flood our airwaves, confusing voters while intimidating our local elected officials.

It also will be a re-election year for our legislators, and conventional wisdom holds that taxing issues are too hot for election cycles. The most active tax protesters are the vocal minority, technology-enabled and energized by out-of-state-financed organizers. We’re already getting robo-calls and other messaging attacking the “gas tax” and our conservative legislators who are willing to tackle and resolve this important issue.

We should not allow them to hijack an issue that greatly determines our quality of life.

Without action this legislative session, the governor will continue to beat up on the General Assembly as a whole and select legislators in particular for not fixing our roads and not cutting taxes. She’ll say the good-old-boys are taking back control of the DOT Commission by sunsetting the secretary’s post.

Even though it’s a win-win-win for her, it keeps the status quo for our roads. That should be unacceptable to everyone.

Cutting and reforming taxes, while well and good, is most difficult because every group, profession and occupation is a “special interest group,” with their own tax preferences.

Adjusting road-use fees strictly for road improvements should be separate and distinct from this larger debate. Up to now, it always has been.

We think a better solution is compromise. But if they can’t find a way to pass a good road-fix bill only to have it vetoed, they’ll have to muster a two-thirds majority within the House and Senate for an override. That’s the Legislature’s prerogative as the people’s directly-elected representatives.

In some respects, with a veto override, everybody wins. Our roads will finally get the long-overdue attention they need, the legislators show a super-majority accepted the challenge and bit the bullet collectively, both the Land the governor can check this off the state’s priority to-do list, and the governor’s quest for fiscal purity is preserved ... she can blame the Legislature.

We urge citizens to press their members of the General Assembly to immediately take up the mantra, “I voted to fix our roads in 2015.”

On that score, we could truly say to our citizens and industry: “It’s a great day in South Carolina.”

J. Richards Todd is president & CEO of the S.C. Trucking Association and is active in the Coalition for Road and Bridge Improvements.