Road solutions are stymied by gasbags

Don’t expect a legislative solution this year for potholes like these off Spring Street in downtown Charleston.

An awful lot of otherwise reasonably intelligent people will drive from Mount Pleasant to Red Top to save a nickel a gallon on gas.

Let’s put that in perspective. The average car sitting dead on empty holds 14 gallons, and gets 20-odd miles to the gallon. So these folks are burning at least $4 on a round trip to save up to 70 cents.

Gotta love those math skills.

“It’s an emotional thing,” says state Sen. Larry Grooms. “There is no commodity people purchase like gas. They will spend a dollar driving down the road to save a dime.”

So, you say, it’s a good thing people who think like that aren’t in charge of the state budget.

Oh, but they are.

These math whizzes elect the dunderheads who have let the state fall $40 billion behind in road repairs. And those people are the ones who will make sure their representatives don’t fix that problem this year — or next.

For at least six months, the Legislature has talked of little else but fixing our roads. Now it’s the final week of session and they are no closer to a solution.

See, they won’t raise the gas tax to pay for road repairs because the Americans for Prosperity group has scared the bejesus out of them to stop it.

Here’s what prosperity looks like: A 4-cent gas tax increase would cost the average driver around $30 a year. Meanwhile, a front-end alignment cost $175.

You know what causes front ends to get out of alignment?

Potholes.

On Thursday, Grooms says the General Assembly will adjourn without a long-term solution to fix our roads.

Again.

The Senate Transportation Committee chairman has been trying to remedy this for years, and no one will listen. As he says, roads are a core function of government — it’s the one thing most people agree on.

Trouble is, these Prosperity clowns have targeted Grooms for simply pointing out that road repairs actually cost money — and a modest gas tax hike could fix that.

Here are the facts that these Koch brother puppets won’t tell you: South Carolina’s gas tax is the lowest in the region, and one of the lowest in the country.

And we have the crappiest roads.

But there is absolutely no correlation there — a guy on AM radio said so!

Grooms even tied his gas tax hike to an income tax reduction, a plan that Gov. Nikki Haley swiped out from under him. And when she did it, expanding the size of the income tax cut, it threw everyone into an uproar.

Then it got more complicated last month when state officials found $400 million between their couch cushions. Yes, they have some pretty big couches around the Statehouse.

Some of the panderers said, “Hey, we’ll use this money — problem solved.”

No, it’s not.

It comes back to math. First of all, yes, $400 million is a lot of money, but it amounts to about 1 percent of our road needs.

Second, it is only a one-time windfall, not a revenue stream. Claiming this is the solution is exactly the same as thinking you can afford a $500 a month car payment, even though you’re unemployed, because you have $500 in a savings account.

The fiscal conservatives spouting this idea are, ironically, the most fiscally irresponsible people out there.

Grooms has argued for years that the DOT needs a dedicated revenue stream of $400 million a year to catch up on road needs.

But most of his colleagues owe their job — which pays $10,000 and all the shrimp cocktail they can eat — to a bunch of guys who will drive 50 miles to save 50 cents.

And they sure aren’t going to try and talk sense — or math — to those folks.

No, the safer route to re-election in this state is to sponsor completely unnecessary things like “marriage protection acts” (which, strangely enough, don’t outlaw divorce) or bills to ensure “English is our official language.”

So, as Grooms predicts, nothing will get done this year, even though this is one of the government’s most important jobs. And they won’t do it again next year.

See, we’ve got all these GOP presidential candidates rolling through, each of them leaning farther right than the next — all of them yelling no new taxes.

Then next year, every House and Senate member is up for re-election, so they won’t touch anything with the word “tax” in it.

You just thought they were spineless this year.

So schedule your front-end alignments now, folks.

The potholes are here to stay until someone besides Grooms has the guts to tell these people the truth.

Or until someone makes our official language math.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com.