The South Carolina House passed a state budget plan Wednesday that includes $415 million more to fix state roads without a gas tax increase. Now, Gov. Nikki Haley is calling on the House to pass a Senate plan to reform the DOT Commission.
“The way the road system works now is there are commissioners that serve on a board, that are appointed by the legislature. Those commissioners do political horse-trading, and basically what’s happening right now is roads are maintained based on the deals that are made in the commission,” she says.
The Senate plan would have the governor appoint DOT commissioners, with the advice and consent of the Senate.
She said a good example of the political horse-trading that gets projects done is Highway 51 in Florence County. The two-lane road is being widened to five lanes, even though fewer than 5,000 vehicles a day use the road.
“This road is being taken care of because the Senate president happens to live there,” Gov. Haley says, referring to Senate president pro tem Hugh Leatherman. “I’m telling you, there are citizens all over South Carolina that are seeing a lot of roads that need to be fixed, not just in Florence. And what we want to say is let’s get a state roads plan that’s on priority, based on safety, based on traffic, based on economic development, not based on who the leaders of the legislature are.”
A spokesman for Sen. Leatherman said he was tied up in meetings all day and couldn’t respond because he didn’t hear what the governor had said.
The people who live along the stretch of Highway 51 that’s being widened say it’s badly needed, mainly for safety but also for convenience. And they point out that Florence County residents passed a one-penny sales tax increase for roads and made Highway 51 their main priority, so they’re paying for it themselves. But while that penny tax will pay about $45 million of the cost of widening the road, the state will pay about $105 million, according to the DOT.
Even though the House passed the budget plan, it would still have to be approved in the Senate, which passed a separate roads bill that would put $400 million toward fixing roads. Rep. Gary Simrill, R-Rock Hill, who has spearheaded the House’s efforts to come up with a roads plan, says that Senate plan is not the solution.
“The Senate version of the dollars locks us in to we have no movement. So what if we have a downturn in the economy? Well, you may cut law enforcement. You may cut education. You would not be able to cut that (road money.) So it locks in the $400 million. It’s problematic as the future goes,” he says.