October 7, 2022

The Nerve

Where Government Gets Exposed

Gas-tax-hike surplus swells over past year

By RICK BRUNDRETT

As South Carolina motorists over the past year have been paying more in state gasoline taxes – on top of skyrocketing gas prices – the surplus from revenues generated under the 2017 gas-tax-hike law jumped by nearly $300 million, records show.

As of Jan. 31, the cash balance of a special fund created with the law stood at $1.05 billion – $297.9 million, or about 40%, more than the total surplus a year earlier, according to state Department of Transportation and comptroller general records. The increase was $46 million greater compared to the previous annual growth in the reserves.

Looking at it another way, the current surplus equals about $260 for every driver with a regular South Carolina license.

The gas-tax-hike law, which raised the state gas tax by 12 cents per gallon – a 75% jump from the base 16 cents – over six years and increased other vehicle taxes and fees, generated a total of $2.38 billion in revenues from when it took effect on July 1, 2017, through Jan. 31 of this year. Compared to the previous year, overall revenues grew by $688.2 million, or about 41%, records show.

Total revenues through Jan. 31 were nearly $62 million more than the collective amount of all project “commitments” identified by DOT.

Meanwhile, the agency continues its slow pace of fixing the state’s crumbling roads and bridges.

The Nerve’s latest review of DOT records found that as of Jan. 31, the total value of completed “pavements” projects in the state’s 46 counties was $824.3 million, which represented 45.3% of the listed $1.81 billion total estimated cost of all such projects. The completion percentage has remained stuck in the mid-40% range over the past year.

Twenty-six counties fell below the 50% completion mark, including the larger counties of Charleston (39%), Richland (37.7%) and Lexington (28.1%). Twenty-three counties showed no change compared to Dec. 31.

The Nerve’s review found that DOT as of Jan. 31 had identified a total of 5,744.2 miles of “pavements” projects in counties statewide, which was an increase of about 264 miles, of 4.7%, from Dec. 31. But that represents a relatively small percentage of the total miles of roads that the agency says have to be repaired.

DOT has said 80%, or 33,600 miles, of the state’s approximately 42,000 miles of roads need to be repaved or rebuilt. Based on a review of agency records, The Nerve in September revealed that major repaving or road reconstruction projects statewide could take on average at least a year and possibly more than two years to complete.

The Nerve also reported then that the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the state’s roads an overall “D” grade in its annual report card.

Gov. Henry McMaster has proposed using $660 million in federal coronavirus-relief funds for next fiscal year, which begins July 1, to start construction of Interstate 73 toward Myrtle Beach, and widening I-26 between Columbia and Charleston, as The Nerve reported in January. McMaster in a letter to lawmakers also noted widening I-95 in the Lowcountry and additional lane widening of I-85 in the Upstate.

In passing the gas-tax-hike law, legislators promised that the revenues would go toward fixing existing bad roads and bridges in South Carolina. But as of Jan. 31, nearly $272 million, or about 12% of the total project “commitments” identified by DOT, was designated for interstate widenings, agency records show.

Brundrett is the news editor of The Nerve (www.thenerve.org). Contact him at 803-3948273 or rick@thenerve.org. Follow him on Twitter @RickBrundrett. Follow The Nerve on Facebook and Twitter @thenervesc.

Nerve stories are free to reprint and repost with permission by and credit to The Nerve.



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