Sen. Tom Davis continues his roads filibuster for another year

Traffic backs up during rush hour Wednesday at the intersection of International Boulevard and Interstate 526. The Charleston Area Transportation Study Policy Committee has budgeted $37.6 million in 2018 and 2019 to improve I-526 capacity, including improving intersections with the highway.

COLUMBIA — As the roads debate cranked up Wednesday in the Senate, Beaufort Republican Sen. Tom Davis returned to the podium he left at the end of the 2015 session.

After five weeks of anticipation, behind the scenes wrangling and committee meetings, Davis continued his filibuster related to the House-approved roads funding bill. His message is unchanged: Structural reforms need to happen to the S.C. Department of Transportation Commission before sending more money to the agency.

“If we pass something we’re not going to come back to this in another 20 to 30 years,” Davis said. “This is our chance to really, truly restructure DOT ... we need to get this right.”

Putting appointments to the governing commission of DOT under the governor would increase accountability, Davis said. Lawmakers currently appoint commissioners from the seven congressional districts with one at-large selection from the governor.

Davis said political favoritism on the commission fractionalizes power, as does the independent State Transportation Infrastructure Bank, which he wants under DOT.

“Talking about the DOT Commission structure and talking about the STIB isn’t a stall tactic ... it is at the heart of why you’re not getting your roads and bridges fixed, despite the fact that we continually every year put hundreds and millions of dollars mores into roads and bridges,” Davis said. “It’s not about simply about money.”

Several Democrats and Republicans tried to move Davis onto amendments in an effort to further the debate, including Sen. Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, who said he agrees in some respects with Davis.

“I don’t know how we address potential solutions unless you give up the podium,” Massey said, pushing to take up amendments. “I think you’ve succeeded in getting this idea out in front of the public.”

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Davis said his goal is to move power, and thus accountability, from the Legislature to the executive branch, while colleagues, specifically Democrats, are more interested in putting more money toward potholes, crumbling roads and substandard bridges.

“I don’t believe the most critical issue is governance,” said Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Columbia. “When I go outside of this chamber, all I hear is it’s in crisis mode. I think we can get there.”

Lourie is the co-author of an amendment with Sen. Ray Cleary, R-Georgetown, that would let Gov. Nikki Haley choose from three candidates from the 10 Council of Governments around the state to the DOT Commission. They’d be confirmed by the Senate and would appoint the DOT secretary. The amendment includes some $400 million in tax relief from a 12-cent gas tax increase, along with other vehicle-related increases would generate $650 million annually for roads.

Increased funding, agency reform and tax relief are all critical to the passage of a roads bill, leaders and Haley have said.

Davis spoke for more than four hours and reiterated that if senators wanted him to stop talking, 24 of them could vote for him to sit down.