New Taxes for Road Repair? Lawmaker Responses to Taxpayers’ Questions Less Than Reassuring

May 11, 2015

Inside Insight

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DOES ‘I HAVE NO IDEA’ COUNT AS AN ANSWER?

Last Tuesday we told you about a new web page created by the South Carolina Policy Council (The Nerve’s parent organization) enabling citizens to ask their lawmakers whether the tax increase they’re proposing for road maintenance will actually result in road repair. The project allows people not just to ask if the money will go to “roads” in the abstract, but whether the new revenue will actually result in specific, named roads undergoing repairs.

Seems like a fair question, right? After all, if lawmakers are going to require taxpayers to pay more to maintain their roads – and especially if they’re going to impose new taxes without any explanation of why the roads have fallen apart in the first place – surely those lawmakers ought to be prepared to offer some assurance that the money will result in better roads.

We also asked if those using the web page to contact their elected officials would forward any responses to us. Several responses have been forwarded. They’ve been civil, and several lawmakers deserve credit for that. They do, however, underline a simple fact in this debate: that supporters of the tax increase have no idea whether the added revenue will result in better roads.

Here are a few samples:

Rep. Bill Sandifer responded to his constituent by claiming to have no power over how the money might be used:

Everywhere I go folks are talking about roads and they have every right to be upset. The budget that the House passed, and sent to the Senate, includes approximately $400 million new dollars to be used to repair and maintain existing roads. It is not to be used for new highways. I can’t tell you what roads are included. That decision is made by SCDOT. We also put restructuring (of the SCDOT Commission) language in the House bill. [emphasis added]

Rep. Kenny Bingham, similarly, passed the buck to nameless bureaucrats at DOT:

Since DOT prioritizes road repairs, and not the General Assembly, I can’t tell you which roads will be repaired first or how long it will take to get to a specific road. All I can say for sure is that all the money collected would go to DOT for this purpose.

Now, it might be technically true that DOT “prioritizes road repairs,” but it misses the point. Legislative leaders appoint and control nearly all the key decision-makers on the Department of Transportation Commission and the Joint Transportation Review Committee.

Nor is it entirely true that “all the money collected” would go to DOT for this purpose, since the bill Rep. Bingham is referring to would, in its latest form, require DOT to transfer half of the money it gets from the vehicle sales tax to the State Transportation Infrastructure Bank.

Rep. Kirkman Finlay gets the award for shortest answer: “Both of these seem to be DOT.”

That’s the whole of Rep. Finlay’s response to a question about two deteriorating roads. Does it somehow answer the constituent’s question? We’re not sure.

Finally, Sen. Mike Fair’s lengthy answer seemed to confuse even the senator himself:

I do not believe you live in Senate District 6 but I will be happy to find out what you want to know. For example the tax increase should also include the tax decrease to determine what the net increase in taxes or net decrease in taxes. The road builders need more revenue. You raise a good question about having confidence in Government (Department of Transportation) to spend the revenue they receive more  on roads and bridges. Part of the plan should be a reformation of the Department of Transportation.

So the plan if it gets passed would raises taxes at the pump….reduce income taxes….and reform DOT. Is it a good plan? I don’t know yet.

If you drive 50,000 miles a year and get 25 miles per gallon, that would be 2000 gallons. The first year the additional gas tax would be 80.00, the second year would be 160.00 the third year would be 240.00.

If you drive 40,000 miles same mph, the increase would be 72.00, 2nd year 144., and the third and thereafter would be 216.

If you drive about the average (20,000) miles, the first year would be 36.00 , 2nd…72.00 3rd and thereafter would be 108 per year. Those amounts would have to be compared to the reductions in your income taxes which will cross over the increased costs in the third year. After the third year, the tax relief is scheduled to be more than the tax increase.

If the idea passes into law, it will have to as the outline proposes or no bill, no new taxes, and no new roads. The old roads should be better ( potholes fixed) because the new budget is giving more dollars from the general fund so called excess revenue account to all the counties construct funds account and must be spent on the roads.

Hope this information helps both of us understand what’s happening or might happen.

We don’t know about you. But that answer didn’t help us understand anything.

We’ll relay more responses next week. For now, though, you could be forgiven for suspecting that a tax increase for “road repair” might not result in more roads being repaired.