With no public input, S.C. Department of Transportation (DOT) commissioners voted last month to approve more than $344 million worth of taxpayer-financed borrowing on four “non-priority” road projects.
Depending on who you ask, that’s either most or all of the state’s bonding capacity for highway projects …
Why did our scarce resources get blown on these non-essential projects? Why wasn’t this money spent on repairing our state’s existing roads and bridges – or at the very least on new projects that ranked higher in terms of priority?
As we reported earlier this month, the whole thing was a behind-the-scenes vote buying scam. In fact, one of the state’s transportation commissioners wrote a guest column on FITS two weeks ago detailing how DOT chairman Danny Isaac basically bribed his fellow commissioners with projects in their districts in order to gain their support for an I-73 interchange that he covets.
“Chairman Isaac wanted money for a $200 million interchange for Interstate 73 – but the only way he could get this money was to have each Commissioner include a project for their districts in the bond offering,” DOT Commissioner Sarah Nuckles wrote last week in her guest column. “Prior to hatching this plan, Isaac did not have the four Commission votes he needed to get funding for the Interstate 73 exit approved.”
“This plan was hidden from the public – and from me in my role as a Commissioner – but it was apparently being circulated among state legislators,” Nuckles continued. “In fact, the first I heard of it was in a phone call from a House member a few weeks before the Commission meeting. This lawmaker suggested that I call an Horry County Legislator, because ‘a deal was going down’ and if I wanted to include widening Interstate 85 in Cherokee County, I ‘had better call him.’”
Rather than participate in the scam, Nuckles exposed it – a courageous display of true government transparency.
“This critical vote was not advertised on the agendas of either the commission workshop or the commission meeting,” Nuckles explained, “nor were details of the projects involved (including specific cost estimates) provided to commissioners until the day of the workshop.”
Earlier this week, FITS received the approved minutes from both the DOT workshop and the commission meeting – documents which clearly show Nuckles fighting against this boondoggle.
In the DOT workshop on April 20, Nuckles says the vote “should have been advertised so that the public could participate because it’s public money.” The following day at the commission meeting, Nuckles pointed out the low priority of the projects being proposed and asks her colleagues to “be careful about appearing to be political rather than objective and quantifiable.”
None of them listened.
In fact, shortly after this vote was taken one of the commissioners who was in on the scam had the audacity to tell The Greenville News that “the public does not have a say” how these funds should be spent.
So … what’s next for this scam?
Sources tell FITS that the state’s Joint Bond Review Committee will take the measure up soon – possibly at its next scheduled meeting on June 1. Let’s hope the members of that committee will think twice before approving these projects.
Four years ago, S.C. lawmakers told taxpayers that they had reformed the SCDOT so that actual highway needs – not politics – would guide its decisions. Clearly, that “reform” didn’t take.