Harmon: Playing Games With SC Roads
South Carolina lawmakers are having trouble figuring out how to repair our state’s roads. Nationally, Republicans seem to understand that the country can’t just tax and spend its way out of every problem. For some reason they’re confused when it comes to state-level tax policy. Democrats (who are generally confused at every level) aren’t any help either.
When my little brother can’t figure out how to beat a video game, he gets on the internet and looks for a “walkthrough.” These guides help young gamers when, instead of slaying dragons, the dragons are slaying them. For example, if you can’t escape from the Dark Forest, a walkthrough will help you find the Sword of Destiny so that you can fight your way through an orc horde and continue your quest to save the elven princess.
The state legislature is handling this infrastructure issue about as well as a video game player with his TV turned off. Representative Tommy Stringer, by suggesting we raise the gas tax, has become the Leroy Jenkins of the S.C. State House. Senator Nikki Setzler says we should take out a loan, which I guess makes him that kid who somehow gets access to his big brother’s Call of Duty account and ruins his kill/death ratio.
If you don’t know what any of these video game references mean, you’re as clueless about video games as South Carolina lawmakers are about tax policy. The difference is that, while video games have no effect on the real world (until they bring back Nick Arcade), tax policy plays a very important role in our economy.
So, as a friendly taxpayer, I’ve prepared an easy-to-read, step-by-step tutorial on how to address the problem (the tax problem, that is … if you’re wondering about Call of Duty, you’ll have to Google it.)
Road Repair Walkthrough
Step 1: Shut down costly, unnecessary projects.
The state legislature is wasting the money it already has. Stop building new roads that SC doesn’t need or want and start repairing and maintaining the roads we’ve already got. Lawmakers need to prioritize spending. Before we build a bridge to nowhere, we need to fixes the bridges we’ve already got.
Step 2: Eliminate or reform the State Transportation Infrastructure Bank.
The STIB takes money from the taxpayers and won’t give it back unless they offer up even more money in matching funds. Some of the areas most in need of road repair don’t have enough money to put forth the local match necessary to receive funding from the STIB. Instead of sending money where it is needed, the STIB seems to specialize in expensive projects that offer little value to taxpayers.
Step 3: Eliminate state sales tax exemptions.
Removing state sales tax exemptions would bring in at least $1 billion a year in revenue. That alone would be enough to solve all our infrastructure problems. And for anyone who’s worried that might lead to a mass exodus of business owners:
Step 4: Reduce or eliminate the state corporate income tax.
Create new revenue by luring new businesses into the state. Instead of using tax breaks as a bargaining chip to pick winners and losers, the legislature should make things easier for all job creators. More jobs lead to more income which leads to more revenue (whether collected through personal income taxes or sales taxes).
Step 5: Reduce or eliminate the state personal income tax.
Create new revenue by encouraging people to move to South Carolina and increase existing revenue by removing a disincentive to working.
Step 6 (Optional): Index the gas tax for inflation
Consumption-based taxes are generally a good thing. They ensure that people are paying for what they use (and that people who aren’t using something don’t pay for it). Out-of-state tourists and truckers who drive through South Carolina and use our roads should have to pay for the privilege. But state lawmakers shouldn’t add to the burden of the already overtaxed citizens of South Carolina.
A gas tax that tracks inflation is a good idea in theory, but until the legislature reduces the burden on South Carolina taxpayers no one should be talking about raising any tax rates.