So many plans changed a week ago as just about everything in The T&D Region and other places in the state shifted to a focus in record rain and flooding. Disaster followed, leaving South Carolina’s roads and bridges in a state of emergency.
Ironically, the advance plan for the Monday, Oct. 5, T&D editorial page called for a column by Jamie Murguia regarding South Carolina roads. The director of research for the South Carolina Policy Council makes the case for addressing the state’s infrastructure woes – but not until after lawmakers make reforms at the S.C. Department of Transportation.
The common misconception by proponents of a gas tax increase is that the state needs more overall revenue, Murguia states.
More money won’t produce better roads, she contends, citing growth of the SCDOT budget by $708 million since 2012.
“That’s about 54 percent when adjusted for inflation. Further, the State Transportation Infrastructure Bank’s budget has grown from $50 million in 2014 to $155 million in 2015, and hit a whopping $255 million in the current fiscal year.
“The state’s transportation budget is growing … with no discernible improvement.”
Murguia argues the current system of prioritization and funding of projects is not transparent. She calls for reforms including curbing the power of the speaker of the House and the Senate president pro tempore over SCDOT priorities.
From there, the Department of Transportation Commission should be eliminated and the DOT secretary made directly accountable to the governor, Murguia says. “Decisions affecting the state’s road system should be made by an official accountable to the entire state – the governor – and when the system fails in one way or another, citizens should know who’s responsible.”
Not until reforms are made should lawmakers begin talking about taking more money from taxpayers and putting it into the transportation system, Murguia says.
Though it seems certain reform at SCDOT and legislative control thereof will be a source of debate in any road-funding plan that comes out of Columbia, the damage to the state’s infrastructure from the flooding of the past week has changed the equation.
Before the flooding, there was consensus that road and bridge repair was a priority. Now there is no choice.
Those wondering whether state lawmakers, who promised a road-funding bill in 2015, will finally make it happen in 2016 can now bet on it. Repairs are a matter of life and death with the state system having sustained so much damage.
And even the most conservative of state lawmakers is unlikely to offer opposition to federal assistance in addressing emergency repairs and reconstruction – even though federal assistance is likely to come with the stipulation that bridges and roads be built to stronger, more expensive standards.
The Policy Council very often takes state leaders to task on where money is being wasted and misused. We do hope Murguia’s points about reform in the political process that surrounds infrastructure projects will not be lost in the emergency approach to come. After all, it is our leaders’ duty to be certain now that every dollar spent goes to ensuring that a devastated system is repaired and improved with haste.