By RICK BRUNDRETT
As of Aug. 31, the state of South Carolina was sitting on nearly $312 million in revenues from the gas-tax-hike law that took effect more than 15 months ago – despite promises from lawmakers that the money would go toward fixing crumbling roads.
Newly released records from the S.C. Department of Transportation and state Comptroller General’s Office show that of the approximately $362.3 million collected since July 1, 2017, $15.8 million, or less than 4.5 percent of the total, was spent on listed “external” projects.
That amount jumped by $7 million from the end of July to the end of August, though no money had been spent on “external” projects in 16 counties – a third of the state – as of Aug. 31, according to DOT’s online “IMTF (Infrastructure Maintenance Trust Fund) Disbursements” list.
DOT added the separate link on its website after The Nerve in August pointed out that the agency had posted no online details of first-year expenditures under the gas-tax-hike law, which, among other things, raised the gas tax 12 cents over six years and increased the vehicle sales tax cap from $300 to $500.
DOT and comptroller general records show that $34.6 million in IMTF funds was spent as of Aug. 31 through the County Transportation Committee (CTC) “Donor Bonus” Program, which allows counties to receive rebates of a portion of gas tax collections above revenues allocated to them, based on a formula, for road projects.
But, as The Nerve revealed in March, that program was established under previous state law, and the allocations to counties are not based on the revenue increases that took effect on July 1, 2017.
DOT’s “IMTF Disbursements” list shows which roads by county received funding, though there is no clear description of the work done. Instead, projects are grouped mainly under “rehabilitation,” “preservation” and “safety improvement” categories.
The list shows that as of Aug. 31, total amounts spent on “external” projects in 30 counties ranged from $12,789 in Abbeville County to $2,076,829 in Greenville County.
Oddly, the list shows a decrease in the collective amounts spent in Georgetown and Horry counties as of Aug. 31 compared to July 31, though no explanation was given for the drop.
Although lawmakers repeatedly promised that the gas tax hike would be spent on pothole-riddled roads in their constituents’ communities, DOT’s “IMTF Project List” includes millions for planned “interstate upgrade” projects on I-20 in Lexington County and I-85 in Cherokee and Spartanburg counties.
The projects list, which grows every month though there are no specifics of the work to be done under the main categories of “pavements” and “rural road safety,” stood at $535.5 million as of Aug. 31, compared, for example, to $169.8 million as of Jan. 31.
The South Carolina Policy Council, the parent organization of The Nerve, has contended that the gas-tax-hike law was written in a way to allow DOT to divert IMTF revenues to pay bond debts of the State Transportation Infrastructure Bank (STIB), which over the years funneled several billion dollars for large construction projects in select counties.
DOT chief Christy Hall told The Nerve in June that the STIB could use IMTF revenues for earlier-approved interstate-widening projects. In April, Hall told DOT commissioners that pending lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the gas-tax-hike law and a related 2016 statute have forced the agency to seek other funding sources for interstate projects.
As of the end of August, the IMTF had a $311.8 million balance, DOT and comptroller general records show.
Following is a breakdown of the total amounts spent on “external” projects in counties as of Aug. 31, DOT records show. In several cases, DOT combined counties while listing other projects separately in those counties.
- Abbeville: $12,789
- Aiken: $195,908
- Anderson: $983,314
- Anderson, Oconee: $43,730
- Berkeley: $1,770,425
- Charleston: $869,205
- Cherokee: $31,905
- Chesterfield: $45,796
- Chesterfield, Lancaster: $60,577
- Colleton: $79,653
- Darlington: $914,857
- Dorchester: $1,089,674
- Edgefield: $88,287
- Georgetown: $16,634
- Greenville: $2,076,829
- Greenwood: $332,133
- Horry: $40,048
- Jasper: $853,180
- Kershaw: $66,670
- Kershaw, Sumter: $33,363
- Lancaster: $18,195
- Laurens: $28,559
- Lexington: $186,657
- Marlboro: $609,483
- McCormick: $13,265
- Newberry: $337,367
- Oconee: $436,447
- Orangeburg: $1,530,066
- Pickens: $169,557
- Richland: $302,503
- Saluda: $1,487,740
- Sumter: $1,025,704
- York: $24,673
DOT listed no expenditures for “external” projects in these counties as of Aug. 31: Allendale, Bamberg, Barnwell, Beaufort, Calhoun, Chester, Clarendon, Dillon, Fairfield, Florence, Hampton, Lee, Marion, Spartanburg, Union and Williamsburg.
Brundrett is the news editor of The Nerve. Contact him at 803-254-4411 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @RickBrundrett. Follow The Nerve on Facebook and Twitter @thenervesc.
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