Throwback: Is a gas tax really a good idea?

December 29, 2016

Inside Insight, Uncategorized

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Flooded Bridge

Consider where the revenue would go

Yes, it’s the festive time between Christmas and New Year’s, but soon enough the drinks will be drunk and the gifts put away and the legislature will convene for another session (on January 10). When it does there will be at least several bills, which have been pre-filed, calling for an increase in the gas tax, and it will be said that this is designed to fix our crumbling roads. Well, not so fast, as we explained last year:

South Carolina is still cleaning up after the destruction wrought by Hurricane Joachin’s rainfall, and by most accounts state authorities have responded competently to the emergency. In any case, it’s too early to know which agencies or policies – if any – share responsibility for dams breaking and roads collapsing.

Already, though, some commentators have pointed to the devastation caused by the floods as evidence that lawmakers need to raise the gas tax and send additional revenue to the Department of Transportation for road repair. Whether the present system actually needs more money, or whether existing agencies have spent the money they had foolishly or inefficiently, remain unanswered questions – and mostly unasked questions, too.

But before deciding that a hike in the gas tax is the only – or even the primary – way to deal with South Carolina’s disgraceful road system, take a few minutes to consider what this website has uncovered about the state’s road funding system over the last two years.

Monday’s story is an excellent place to start. An internal audit, a copy of which was recently obtained by The Nerve through a Freedom of Information request, strongly suggests the Department of Transportation is in a state of disarray. The audit raised questions about ongoing corruption, improper political influence, procedural shoddiness, and sheer incompetence. Whether the audit is fair or unfair, it ought to give taxpayers and lawmakers pause before dumping hundreds of millions of additional dollars into such an agency.

Or consider a story from May. After spending approximately $5 million repaving a strip of I-85 in South Carolina’s Upstate, DOT cancelled the project. Why? Because the repaved part of the road was already crumbling – crumbling so badly, in fact, that hundreds of motorists had filed complaints about it. The Nerve’s source at DOT indicated that the contracting company had simply failed to gauge underlying soil conditions before starting – and that the contracting agency, DOT, failed to catch the negligence before 5 million public dollars had been wasted.

The worst thing about these and similar stories? Nobody gets the blame. Since no one public official is in charge of the state’s transportation system – instead it’s run by a collection of powerful lawmakers and their appointees – no one public official can be held accountable. That’s by design. And it means nothing’s going to change until the system itself changes.