Lawmakers Ask for Input, Citizens Give It

September 10, 2015

Inside Insight

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ariail leatherman

HOW CAN THE INFRASTRUCTURE BANK BE IMPROVED?
WELL, FOR STARTERS: ELIMINATE IT.

With the passage of last year’s government restructuring law – the purpose of which was to remove executive powers from the legislature and put them back with the governor – lawmakers acquired new “oversight” powers. As Jamie Murguia persuasively argued at the time, the bill didn’t restructure much of anything; it only rearranged and renamed a few agencies.

As if to confirm that assessment, lawmakers ended up having to hire new staffers to meet the “oversight” responsibilities they’d created for themselves. This despite the fact that the bill’s supporters repeatedly claimed it would “save taxpayer money” and “make government more efficient.”

On the House side, lawmakers even set up a special committee to “conduct legislative oversight studies on agencies at least once every seven years.” Members of that committee have now solicited the public for suggestions on how the various agencies it “studies” can function more efficiently. It’s an online survey – click here. Word of the survey spread after the S.C. Policy Council, The Nerve’s parent organization, emailed a link to its members, and now other organizations have done the same.

One of the five agencies the House committee says it will study is the State Transportation Infrastructure Bank. Now, this “bank” isn’t even supposed to be an agency, but of course it has turned into one – an agency whose purpose is to redirect transportation dollars to largely needless expansions in politically influential counties (counties like Florence, for instance – home of Senator Hugh Leatherman, the man who exercises more power over transportation policy than any other in South Carolina).

Several people participated in the online survey and forwarded their suggestions to the committee. We reprint three below. We wonder if their concerns will be considered?

The STIB is nothing more than an unaccountable government board, controlled by two lawmakers, for whom most South Carolinians can’t vote. There’s no good reason this entity should continue taking money from legitimate projects while politicians threaten to raise taxes. The STIB shouldn’t be audited or reformed, it should be ELIMINATED, its funds redirected to repair and maintenance. The Department of Transportation must be reformed to create a more accountable system.

For these reasons….

Every dollar that goes to the STIB creates ONLY entirely new roads or expanding existing roads, while those dollars could have gone to maintenance.

Every STIB expansion of the state road system creates more lane miles that must be maintained, while only a small pool of funds is used for maintenance.

STIB generates LARGE amounts of funds to finance road expansions via bonds (debt) – liabilities over $2 BILLION in 2014 – while payments on these bonds could have financed needed road maintenance and repair!

As of January 2013, 35 counties had received NO FUNDING from the STIB since its creation. Only SIX have received 95 percent of STIB disbursements, while one received 33 percent!

With 5 votes on the board, the House Speaker and Senate President Pro Tem – two politicians not even elected statewide – have de facto control over one of the most powerful infrastructure authorities in the state.

Dolores Josker

No real prioritization requirements and little accountability make the STIB the transportation slush fund of two powerful legislators.

Bill Busser

My thoughts are threefold. (1) We need to have a referendum as to term limits for House and Senate.  (2) We need a new avenue as to how judges get to the bench. (3)  We need to abolish the Ethics Commission and let the political cronies face the law and courts as do all citizens of this state, along with oversight.

Fred A. Rainwater

Leave your comments with the House Oversight Committee by clicking here.