Sen. Tom Davis has made his point.
The Beaufort Republican says his filibuster of the state roads bill — which has been going on since last year — is all about ensuring there is more accountability at the Department of Transportation before spending another dime to fix our decrepit, pothole-plagued roads.
If that’s his real agenda, he has succeeded. A growing number of state lawmakers acknowledge that he’s right, so he’s preaching to the choir.
But if the purpose of this is to curry favor with the Americans for Prosperity — a group that has been telling some pretty insidious half-truths (at best) about what’s going on in Columbia — then you might as well start saving for your next front-end alignment.
Lately, the Americans for Prosperity have been calling folks in Berkeley County and saying that Sen. Larry Grooms and some of his colleagues support a gas tax increase to give the DOT more money.
That’s not exactly true. Grooms, for one, wants to tie a gas tax increase to a state income tax decrease so that visitors help pave our roads and state residents see little or no change in their tax burden.
“We have one of the lowest gas taxes in the country, and some of the crummiest roads,” Grooms says. “We have one of the higher income taxes and lowest median income.”
It’s a no-brainer. And the senator also notes that more road funding has to come with DOT reform or it’s a nonstarter in the Senate.
Isn’t that exactly what Davis says he’s after?
Here’s the problem with Davis’ ongoing filibuster:
If 24 senators so choose, they can invoke cloture and sit him down. But the minute they do that they only get 15 minutes of debate for each amendment on the desk — and can’t add any.
There are serious discussions to be had, things to change, and the Senate can’t say hello in 15 minutes.
“There’s no way to have a real debate,” Grooms says.
That is why no one has taken up Davis on his invitation to shut him up.
The other problem, which Davis has hinted at, is this: DOT reform strips the Legislature of some of its power.
Right now, lawmakers have incredible sway over road projects — what gets done and when — because they appoint DOT commissioners. If the governor had that power, and appointed a board with a true statewide focus, as Grooms has advocated for a decade, lawmakers lose a little control. And they are control freaks.
That is the real problem with the Department of Transportation. But to hear some people tell it, the agency just wastes money and can’t do anything right.
Now, there was some mismanagement, as there is in any company or agency, but Grooms’ bill straightened much of that out, and there are some good people at the DOT today.
But when the people who appoint their bosses say they have to pour all their resources into a road that’s not really critical in, say, Cheraw, then everything else gets put behind.
Even without that kind of chicanery, there is a need for more money, despite what some politicians and clueless taxpayer groups tell you. There is no way to pay for every road expansion and repaving project this state needs by cutting waste.
That’s a fantasy and the opponents know it. They just don’t want to pay. That’s why they’re misleading folks.
These attack calls have caused some senators to decide they are just going to vote “no” on everything.
After all, if some shadow group can distort your record without a vote, they don’t want to give them ammunition in an election year.
But here’s the rub: if lawmakers don’t do something, the voters aren’t going to support them. We’re fed up. Even the state Chamber of Commerce is threatening these guys now. That’s pretty bad.
So the Senate is stuck. The vast majority of them want to restructure DOT and they want to put money into fixing the roads.
They may have enough votes to actually overrule some of the people who like things just the way they are. But if Davis doesn’t voluntarily end his filibuster, we will never know for sure.
If this continues, even less will get done in the Senate than normal (which is next to nothing), and the road to the voting booth will remain pretty bumpy.
Then Davis will own the roads problem in the eyes of many voters, and the Americans for Prosperity will have to change their name to Americans for Crappy Roads.
Reach Brian Hicks at email@example.com