Lawmakers Can’t Resist Sign-Naming Legislation

January 3, 2014

Investigative Reports

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Billy O'Dell BridgeAs the debate continues on where exactly to spend hundreds of millions of tax dollars earmarked for roads and bridges in the Palmetto State, S.C. lawmakers aren’t giving up their long-held tradition of spending taxpayer money on road and building signs named after notable individuals – and sometimes even themselves.

At least six concurrent resolutions authorizing sign namings were prefiled last month in anticipation of the next legislative session that starts Jan. 14.

Under state law (Section 57-3-610 of the S.C. Code of Laws), reimbursement for sign expenses approved by the S.C. General Assembly and incurred by the S.C. Department of Transportation (DOT) must come from the “State Secondary ‘C’ Apportionment Fund” of the county in which the road, bridge or facility is located.

The sign money comes out of a portion of the state gasoline tax that goes to counties for road projects. By law, reimbursement to the DOT is capped at $500 per authorized project.

The $500 covers the materials, labor and maintenance involved in the erection and upkeep of the signs, though given an average life span of 10 years for each sign, the reimbursement doesn’t cover expenses to replace the initial sign, according to information from the DOT.

During last year’s legislative session, 25 sign-naming concurrent resolutions were adopted; the number of resolutions adopted in the 2012 session was 32, DOT spokesman Pete Poore said in a recent written response to The Nerve.

Unlike general bills, concurrent resolutions have to be passed by both chambers but don’t require the approval of the governor, which likely is a main reason lawmakers can’t resist introducing them. State law requires that sign-naming resolutions be approved by a majority of the legislative delegation in the county in which the sign is to be located.

The annual number of sign-naming resolutions has remained fairly constant over the years. In 2010, for example, the Legislature approved 34 projects; from 2006 through 2010, there were 132 approved projects statewide costing a total of at least $60,000, The Nerve reported in February 2011.

At that time, then-Rep. Boyd Brown, D-Fairfield, introduced a concurrent resolution to name a stretch of Interstate 77 through Fairfield County after former Democratic U.S. Congressman John Spratt of York County. Boyd was an intern in Spratt’s office in 2006, records show. The resolution was approved by the House in 2011 and the Senate in 2012.

The Nerve’s review then found that from 2006 through 2010, at least 13 roadways or structures were named after current or former lawmakers, including current Sens. Billy O’Dell, R-Abbeville, and Nikki Setzler, D-Lexington.

In the latest round of proposals for the legislative session that starts Jan. 14, Rep. Don Bowen, R-Anderson, prefiled a concurrent resolution (H. 4396) proposing that Exit 19 on I-85  in Anderson County be named the “T. Ed Garrison Interchange.” Garrison, who died in June at age 91, was one of Anderson County’s longest-serving state lawmakers, according to an online biography.

Bowen also has proposed (H. 4397) naming the intersection of S.C. 187 and S.C. 24 in Anderson County the “Portman Shoals Intersection.”

And Bowen isn’t alone in pushing sign-naming legislation:

  • Rep. Anne Parks, D-Greenwood, has proposed (H. 4385) naming a stretch of U.S. 178 in Greenwood County the “Dr. Benjamin E. Mays Highway.” A native of South Carolina, Mays was a longtime president of Morehouse College in Atlanta and was described by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as his “spiritual mentor” and “intellectual father,” according to an online biography of Mays published on the Morehouse College website. Mays died in 1984.
  • Rep. Anne Thayer, R-Anderson, prefiled a concurrent resolution (H. 4388), which, if approved, would name part of North Hamilton Street in the town of Williamston in Anderson County the “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Drive.”
  • Rep. Rita Allison, R-Spartanburg, wants several intersections along stretches of Interstate 85 in Spartanburg and Greenville counties named after the Gibbs Cancer Center & Research Institute (H. 4394).
  • Rep. Jimmy Bales, D-Richland, has proposed (H. 4395) naming the intersection of U.S. 601 and Reynolds Road in the town of Eastover the “Elizabeth Workman DeVeaux Intersection.” DeVeaux was one of the first women to receive ordination in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, according to the legislation.

To try to slow the legislative sign-naming express, Sen. Katrina Shealy, R-Lexington, prefiled a bill (S. 859) last month that would ban the General Assembly from introducing legislation naming state roads, bridges or buildings after deceased public officials who have not been dead for at least five years.

Reach Brundrett at (803) 254-4411 or rick@thenerve.org. Follow him on Twitter @thenerve_rick. Follow The Nerve on Facebook and Twitter @thenervesc.