DOT funds flow to roads alliance

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By ROBERT MEYEROWITZ

steam roller road

Some seeking tax hike get hundreds of millions

Since 2014, at least eight members of a nonprofit pushing for an increase in the state’s gas tax collectively have received more than $451 million from the state Department of Transportation, records show.

The money was paid to contractors who are members of the South Carolina Alliance to Fix Our Roads (SCFOR), in fiscal years 2015 and 2016, according to a review of comptroller general records:

  • Sloan Construction Co. — $78.35 million
  • Palmetto Paving Corp. — $77.71 million
  • C.R. Jackson –$75.14 million
  • The Lane Construction Corp. — $61.67 million
  • Zachry Construction — $57.9 million
  • Banks Construction Co. — $37 million
  • Ashmore Brothers — $35.9 million
  • Sanders Brothers Construction — $22 million
  • Granite Contracting — $11.6 million

The payments are nearly a quarter of all expenditures, approximately $2 billion, during that time by DOT, including to utilities, counties, and other government entities.

(In fiscal year 2015, Palmetto Paving was the fifth-highest-paid vendor across all state agencies. In fiscal year 2016, Sloan Construction was the sixth-highest paid vendor across all South Carolina agencies, followed in seventh place by Palmetto Paving.)

Some of the same contractors figured prominently as big-dollar DOT vendors and roads alliance members in a 2015 review of records conducted by The Nerve, when the alliance was also pushing for a gas-tax increase.

Reid Banks, president and CEO of Banks Construction, a Charleston-based company that specializes in paving and grading, is also a member of the legislatively controlled Joint Transportation Review Committee, which nominates candidates to the DOT Commission. The commission approves contracts for large road projects. Banks formerly served on the SCFOR board of directors, a status conveyed by a level of paid dues.

SCFOR, along with an ad hoc “Road Coalition,” have been in the news lately as they’ve pushed the state House to pass a road funding bill that would raise the state fuels tax by 10 cents over the next five years. An estimated $600 million derived from the tax increase would be spent by DOT on road construction. The bill could be up for a vote in the House this week. (Update: It passed the House on a 97-18 vote Wednesday).

When the Road Coalition held a press conference at the Statehouse last week, it put other alliance members front and center, such as Rick Todd, president and CEO of the South Carolina Trucking Association, and Ronnie Summers of the Palmetto Agribusiness Council, as well as Michelin North America President Pete Selleck, all of whom benefit less directly from roads spending.

The Road Coalition, which has no dues or membership or positions, periodically assembles to press for more spending on roads.

SCFOR, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, which was begun in 1981 under another name, works steadily on the issue. It’s been broadening its membership since 2012, says vice president and registered lobbyist Jordan Marsh.

SCFOR still has many of the biggest road firms, but, Marsh told The Nerve, “It’s not just a bunch of contractors sitting around a room trying to decide what we’re going to push for.”

Will there always be an SCFOR? How much funding would be enough for its members?

“The goal would be to pass significant legislation, with dedicated funding, that would basically work ourselves out of a job,” Marsh said.

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