COLUMBIA -- The regional tug-of-war for state Department of Transportation dollars will continue to hold South Carolina back until the Legislature shifts control of roads and bridges to the governor, first-term Republican Nikki Haley said Thursday.
Haley, the state's chief executive, blamed the agency's seven-member governing commission for "wheeling and dealing," rather than prioritizing the limited cash the state has for construction and maintenance.
Danny Isaac, the commission chairman and 1st District representative, said the commission's give-and-take behind joint decisions is best for the state.
"The commission is in touch with their constituents in their community," he said. "It is grossly unfair to characterize carrying your message to the table as 'wheeling and dealing.' "
Six of the seven members on the commission are appointed by legislators from the state's congressional districts. The seventh is an at-large appointee seated by the governor.
The decision for what to do to improve the agency will be up to the Legislature, which reconvenes in January. Haley's comments came after a Budget and Control Board meeting where the members of the financial oversight panel heard an update on the Transportation Department's money woes.
Haley said now is the time for the Legislature to build on a 2007 overhaul of the agency that shifted partial control to the governor's office. Haley said she can only do so much to change the agency's internal management and continuing money problems. "We don't need a political body handling infrastructure," Haley said.
Haley said the difference between the commission and the governor's office having control is that she will take a statewide approach to managing highway dollars with an eye toward economic development.
The trouble surfaced this summer when the agency acknowledged that it did not have enough money to pay contractors and meet long-term financial commitments. Temporary solutions have been put in place but more financial problems are expected.
Legislators, including Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Bonneau, are drafting legislation to put additional fixes in place. That could include devoting more general- fund dollars to roads.
Grooms, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, said he is not sold on any particular plan but continues to study the situation. "I think as long as we have the current structure, there will be parochial deals cut," he said.