(WSPA) – We’ve watched the gas tax rise in South Carolina for six years, but with the state of some roads, a lot of drivers are still confused about where the money is going.
At least one local county is hoping a new penny sales tax will do what the gas tax has not. In this 7NEWS Consumer Exclusive, we hit the road to track down how your tax money is being spent.
HOW MUCH IS RAISED
At any given time, there are roughly 1,000 South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) road projects underway in the Palmetto state.
But when some state roads are crumbling, drivers like John Bush in Inman can’t help but ask:
“They raised the gas tax to work on the roads and so where did that money go?”
It is a fair question considering just one penny of the gas tax generates $38 million a year for the state. That means the extra 12 cents that fully kicked in last year, accounts for nearly half a billion dollars ($456,000,000).
And the total gas tax of 28.75 cents per gallon generates more than $1.092 billion.
WHY IS THE GAS TAX NOT ENOUGH?
7NEWS asked Kelly Moore, the director of public engagement at SCDOT, why that seemingly large amount is not enough to cover all the roadwork needed.
“I think just because not only is it a large network of roads, the costs have also increased,” said Moore.
She explained that it costs half a million dollars to repave one mile of a two-lane highway. And the agency oversees 41,000 miles of roadway, the 4th largest state-maintained highway system in the nation.
And on top of that, Moore added, there’s inflation.
“In 2018, one penny of the gas tax would pave 114 miles of roadway, today that same penny will only pave 91 miles of roadway,” said Moore.
Also, not all of the gas tax goes to the roads. A portion goes to other agencies like the Department of Health and Environmental Control.
And some of the gas tax goes to the interstates – 80% of those road projects are funded by Federal dollars, with 20% funded by the state.
Moore said now that the gas tax has reached its maximum – 12 cents higher than 2016 – it is beginning to catch up on 30 years of what it calls “deferred maintenance.”
HOW THE GAS TAX IS DIVIDED UP
Each county gets a set amount from the gas tax based on the number of state roadway miles within that county. For Greenville, it’s $50 million, Anderson, $32 million, and Spartanburg $40 million, half of which goes to local roads and the other half to state roads.
Manning Lynch, the Spartanburg County Council Chairman said it’s not nearly enough to cover 1,700 miles of pavement in Spartanburg County.
“Truth is, our roads are in bad shape,” said Lynch.
Lynch points to a recent independent assessment of roads in Spartanburg County which finds the average condition is a 57.5 out of 100, a failing grade.
PENNY SALES TAX TO FIX ROADS
Since the failing grades include both local and state roads, Spartanburg County is including portions of state roads in a massive roads improvement plan that would be paid for with a new penny sales tax, up for a vote November 7.
7NEWS asked Lynch if Spartanburg County should have to pay to repair state roads?
“Bare facts are if you want them repaired, we have to pay. They are not getting to it,” said Lynch.
It is a reality that frustrates voters like Al Bianco.
“I want to see the roads get fixed with what money they’ve got right now,” said Bianco.
Still, others are impressed to hear the penny tax would lock in funding for 577 road improvement projects in the next six years.
“That is fantastic. I think Spartanburg is due for a facelift, and if everyone has to pay for an extra penny. I say let’s do it,” said Landon Cohen from Spartanburg.
Allen Smith, the CEO of One Spartanburg Inc., said voters don’t need to be concerned that the new penny tax would be spent on other things.
He said, by law, the penny tax would have to go to the roads already chosen by a committee as needing repairs.
“The project list cannot be amended, cannot be deleted. Every single penny will have to be spent on the projects listed at VoteYesSpartanburg.com,” said Smith.
Smith also said it’s a matter of safety.
“There are 14 intersections in Spartanburg County over the past 5 years that have 322 crashes, 149 injuries, and 3 deaths. All 14 will be addressed if we continue to the penny on Nov. 7th,” said Smith.
43 of the 46 counties in South Carolina have a penny sales tax. Greenville did not pass it in 2022 but it did raise property taxes (though the county said that money is not earmarked for roads, instead it charges a roads tax).
As with any tax, there are mixed reviews.
“Oh, I think it’s a great idea,” said Megan Mardis, who works in Spartanburg and has to pay the tax when buying lunch.
“I think they should do it with the gas tax they already have in place,” said Bush, who is retired.
But whether the roads are fixed, Smith said one thing is certain, drivers will feel it.
“We need $35 million a year not to get worse,” said Smith.