Dana Beach: Don’t Raise SC Gas Tax

FUND PRIORITIES … NOT PORK BARREL PROJECTS By Dana Beach || North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey recently announced that he supports an increase in the state gas tax because there isn’t enough money to fund road improvements for Boeing’s expansion. In the Feb. 2 Post and Courier, my friend Ron…


By Dana Beach || North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey recently announced that he supports an increase in the state gas tax because there isn’t enough money to fund road improvements for Boeing’s expansion.

In the Feb. 2 Post and Courier, my friend Ron Brinson argues for the same, praising Florence Sen. Hugh Leatherman’s recent support of higher gas taxes. Ron takes Gov. Nikki Haley to task for threatening to veto any increase, accusing her of being trapped by her “no new taxes” pledge.

Their arguments revolve around a simple, but unsupportable, assumption. For the sake of discussion, let’s grant that cost of maintaining and upgrading the state’s transportation system exceeds current available revenues. The fiction that Brinson, Summey and Leatherman want us to believe is that higher taxes would actually be spent on fixing real transportation problems, instead of being squandered on the pet projects of powerful politicians.

The evidence overwhelmingly suggests otherwise. For the past 20 years, the S.C. Department of Transportation (DOT) and its little-known shadow agency, the S.C. State Transportation Infrastructure Bank (STIB), have diverted billions of dollars away from state priorities toward projects that are unnecessary or unimportant.

To understand how this works, consider the proposed Boeing roads. There is, in fact, already more than enough money to cover Boeing’s needs. But Mayor Summey, along with North Charleston’s two Charleston County Council members, Elliot Summey and Teddie Pryor, have voted and lobbied to delay these and other important improvements so that the county can instead spend $556 million extending I-526 to Johns Island. That project does not appear on the state’s list of transportation priorities. It ranks 15th on the tri-county region’s priority list, behind key, but unfunded, work on I-26. Two-thirds of the citizens who commented on it during the first phase of the environmental review opposed it. The massive project has not received a single environmental permit.

For this reason, the money for I-526, $420 million of which is literally in the bank, will accomplish nothing for years to come but drain taxpayer dollars in interest costs. In spite of this, a year and a half ago, Mayor Summey spoke in strong support of this diversion of scarce road dollars stating, “It has to be done for the good of all the citizens of Charleston County.”

On first glance, it seems inexplicable that the mayor of North Charleston and the city’s two representatives on County Council would persistently advocate for a road that will benefit neither the state nor their constituents. The reason, however, consists of just two words – Bobby Harrell.

Rep. Harrell has been the primary advocate for extending I-526 to Johns Island. As speaker of the House of Representatives, he has two appointments to the board of the STIB, which provides funding for major transportation projects. In that capacity, and using his influence as speaker, he has ensured that the 526 extension received preference over other projects of statewide importance, Boeing roads included. We have spoken candidly to dozens of leaders in the South Carolina economic development community about regional and state transportation needs. Not one believes the 526 extension should be funded over I-26 investments. But like Mayor Summey, and like council members Summey and Pryor, they are afraid to challenge Speaker Harrell on the issue.

For the same reason, the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce has consistently lobbied in favor of I-526 with the full knowledge that in doing so, they are pushing key economic development investments on I-26 to the back of the funding line, to the detriment of many of their own members.

Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Larry Grooms has been one of the few leaders to publicly condemn I-526. In October of last year, he said, “I believe that there are higher priority projects in Charleston County than the extension of I-526 and that State Infrastructure Bank (SIB) projects should also be subject the prioritization ranking of Act 114. … Under Act 114, the 526 extension would fall behind other projects.”

South Carolina’s road system is, indeed, in bad shape. But the neglect is not the result of a lack of money. It is the product of a funding structure designed to be manipulated by powerful insiders. Pouring good money after bad by raising the gas tax without reforming that system would represent a massive failure of leadership.

The solution, as Sen. Grooms suggests, is to change the law so that it requires all transportation dollars, existing or new, be dedicated to projects objectively determined to be key state priorities, starting with maintenance and repair.

Dana Beach is executive director of the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League.

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euwe max February 9, 2014 at 7:45 pm

South Carolina’s road system is, indeed, in bad shape.
I was starting to worry you had been shot by one of the crazies. An ounce of prevention, you know…

nitrat February 9, 2014 at 8:23 pm

Any state that has not raised its gas tax since 1987 because of pledges to right wing lobbyists does, indeed, have bad roads due to lack of money.
You’ve covered various subjects here. Too bad none are connected to the gas tax.

Smirks February 10, 2014 at 9:48 am

If there’s truly a lack of money, then let SCDoT drop unnecessary projects, tighten up where it can, and prove to the public it can’t get by with the money it currently gets.

It is the government’s responsibility to prove to its citizenry that there is an actual need for a tax increase.

Logic 101 February 9, 2014 at 8:46 pm

If you can’t first make sure all the of money for roads is going to roads, what is the point in giving them more?

If the SCDOT is a slush fund, you might as well set the money on fire.

RogueElephant February 10, 2014 at 8:16 am

All these bills put the money into the general fund. The politicians really think we are stupid enough to keep falling for the “It’s only a penny”scam. I wouldn’t mind a small tax increase on gas but until it is put into roads it will be wasted and the roads will be just as they are now.

venomachine February 10, 2014 at 9:08 am

Columbia (Dullumbia?) was stupid enough to fall for it.

Deo Vindice SC February 10, 2014 at 9:16 am

How about another Baseball complex.

Smirks February 10, 2014 at 9:46 am

It’ll be wildly successful. I mean, look at all of the sold out Blowfish games! What could go wrong?

idcydm February 9, 2014 at 8:52 pm

I will gladly pay more in a gas tax when when our state legislators give up their $135.00 a day per diem and state employees that get mileage to drive from their residence to their place of work stops.

Just wnat to know February 10, 2014 at 3:04 pm

Please fill us in: what state employee is getting paid for mileage to drive to work.

idcydm February 10, 2014 at 5:28 pm Reply
Fedup February 9, 2014 at 9:46 pm

How many people work for D.O.T. They have no money to do anything on the roads ,the roads are falling apart,I seen on news where they are having to pay claims for damage to cars due to potholes and bad roads and are paying millions of dollars for insurance premiums, how are they paying their payroll,no work is being done,so what are all these employees doing? Seems like something is going on among the politicians and the D.O.T. Where is all the money going? It would be nice to know whats going on behind closed doors in some of those meetings. Time for heads to roll seems like to me!

Yep! February 9, 2014 at 10:36 pm

They are probably sitting on whatever little funds they have after the pols drain their funds for other pet projects, purposely to get more gas tax money.

It’s kind of like when there’s a Fed government shutdown. They only close 20%, but that 20% are the things that people actually care about, National Monuments, Parks, stuff like that. They don’t shut down anything no one cares about.

WOW February 10, 2014 at 3:11 pm

SO nothing is going on at DOT? No work is getting done on the roads all across the state? So are you going to hook up your snow plow and make sure the roads stay clear this week? Who put down all of the asphalt on I-26 and I-20 over the summer.
Easy to throw stones and make general statements when you have no idea what it takes to maintain a road system.

euwe max February 10, 2014 at 1:19 am

Roads? Roads?

we don’t need no steenkin’ Roads!

idcydm February 10, 2014 at 8:42 am

Is that what they say in Texas?

MYOB? February 10, 2014 at 9:05 am

Apparently he’s given up on Texas and finds more fertile grounds for his agenda in SC.

euwe max February 10, 2014 at 9:32 am

Actually, raiding message boards is a long and venerated tradition where I come from.

I’m a wallflower compared to some of my “acquaintances.”

I was informed that this was a “target rich environment,” so here I am.

MYOB? February 10, 2014 at 10:15 am

It must be a lucrative business.

euwe max February 10, 2014 at 10:16 am

To be completely truthful, I haven’t figured out a way to make money on it yet… but just in case, I’m practicing.

MYOB? February 10, 2014 at 3:50 pm

When you get it figured out, mind letting me know the secret?

euwe max February 10, 2014 at 4:21 pm

Are you kidding? If I ever find a good gig, I’m going to keep it a *secret*…

when you find gold in a field, you go right away to buy that whole field… you don’t tell anyone, or there won’t be any gold left in it when you show up at the claim office.

euwe max February 10, 2014 at 9:30 am

We’ve graduated to schools.

idcydm February 10, 2014 at 9:54 am

You are going to wear out that “Edit” button.

euwe max February 10, 2014 at 11:22 am

…I was hoping no one would notice [blushes]

RogueElephant February 10, 2014 at 8:12 am

I gave a mild heart attack to a friend of mine recently who works for SCDOT.. I told him Nikki had closed a deal that bought shovels that would stand by themselves. No operator needed. LOL

CorruptionInColumbia February 10, 2014 at 8:18 am

Oh let’s just give them permission to take more and more from our wallets, any ole’ time they ask for it. No need to demand accountability or responsibility from our politicians, is there?

The vultures in Lexington County to include all municipal councils and Lexington County Council (especially Bill Banning, Johhny Jeffcoat, and Debbie Summers) are drooling at the prospect of that extra penny of sales tax. They already KNOW they are going to get it. I wonder if they have hired Lillian McBribe as a “consultant” to show them how to rig the referendum on that tax.

Deo Vindice SC February 10, 2014 at 8:46 am

How’s that transparent Governor working out for ya?

idcydm February 10, 2014 at 8:55 am

Probably as good as that transparent President we have.

Deo Vindice SC February 10, 2014 at 9:02 am

Sorry, but your comment makes no sense.

euwe max February 10, 2014 at 9:53 am

I think he means he’s so color blind, he sees right through Obama.

Deo Vindice SC February 10, 2014 at 9:56 am

I think he is Tangos brother-in-law.

euwe max February 10, 2014 at 10:17 am

Think there’s room on the kitchen table for two computers?

venomachine February 10, 2014 at 9:09 am

Let’s hope the citizens of Lexco prove how much smarter they are than the citizens of Columbia and vote that godawfl thing down in a landslide.

ThreePalms February 10, 2014 at 10:48 am

The roads and bridges in South Carolina MUST BE maintained and improved. The State’s fuel tax has not been adjusted in almost 30 years and is among the lowest in the country. South Carolina should increase its fuel tax and use the funds for road projects. Whether or not the Infrastructure Bank must use the priorization method under Act 114 is a seperate matter.

Finally, the idea that a government funding structure is designed to be manipulated by powerful insiders is a simple fact of life. Grow up. No one likes to pay taxes or fees, but, that too, is a fact of life in a first world society.

Philip Branton February 10, 2014 at 11:07 am

Dear “Three Palms”,

We want to applaud your sense of “poetic” avatar and rhyme…”Finally, the idea that a government funding structure is designed to be manipulated by powerful insiders is a simple fact of life….”

We highly wager that a phone call is being made at this exact time to let a SC-DOT Manager understand how “Three” palms can be wrapped around any developer using Google Earth. The question is, do powerful “insiders” understand the simple fact of LAW made famous in the movie “Erin Brockovich”…?

SO, care to take a wager “3” palms and try to figure out “Who” is Wil Folks playing in this scene and who is a SC-DOT worker..?

Can you guess who is drowning in the glass of water..?

Hint: It is not Dana Beach or “u”…!

ThreePalms February 10, 2014 at 3:27 pm

Dude, I will not be able to engage in any meaningful dialogue with you because I never seem to be able understand what the hell you are trying to say. Did you realize that the phase “…idea that government funding structure…powerful insiders.” was not my poetry, but taken directly from the article?

Philip Branton February 10, 2014 at 10:54 am

Dear SPAWAR Atlantic workers and SCDOT admin personnel, if you would for a moment, sit back and really think hard about the points Mr. Beach puts forward. They are well made and are very “shiny”, much a like a star in the night sky. Now think about all the other stars in the night sky that make up the “Big Bobby Harrell Dipper”. Think about the BMW Inland port “Harrell” massage. Then think about the SC Public Rail massage “star”. Then think about 900 Million stars for BOEING. Think about the Biedler Forest Norfolk-Southern “Summey Buffett”. That fine private bridge jutting out from the Charleston Rifle Club was built for a reason.

All this media fluff about the I-526 extension is really moot. Spawar Atlantic workers understand how to read SCDOT traffic counts going into John’s Island and that’s a LOT of gas tax revenue. The question is… SC-DOT workers understand how they can be sentenced in a court of LAW for not publicly accounting for the gas taxes that are raised on the Island of “John” to pay for the I-526 extension itself. Why would SC-DOT workers allow a politician like SUMMEY or Riley to tango the taxpayers of the entire state to benefit their real estate developer “donors” without divulging the insider information for all taxpayers to understand via their SC-DOT publicly funded website …OR….allow Fitsnews to publish. The information is NOT classified.

Furthermore, if SPAWAR Atlantic workers do NOT understand how this type of “Fog” has cost the taxpayers of South Carolina BILLIONS in bribed US AID re-construction federal funds then what good does it do to award contracts for Joint Ops in the first place. Spawar workers, if you do not think that BOEING executives laugh at Summey with a wink because of those little wind turbines on top of his City Hall, they won’t be when they realize certain suppliers of needed materials for their plane manufacturing are being held up by boys in Chicago playing 5 card stud with the “Straits of Mallaca”…!!

Spawar workers, based upon your contract knowledge….what type of battlefield informational dominance should you pass on to SC-DOT admin workers via FACEBOOK tags to Fitsnews.?

Dana Beach would really like to know…..and so would Fennell Development.

Beartrkkr February 11, 2014 at 1:37 am

We also need to build I-73, since it is seemingly impossible to get from Ohio to Myrtle Beach (we’ll ignore the millions of them that have done it in the past). Of course if we get them there faster, I presume that the traffic once they get there will magically disappear and not clog up the new highway.

Wes Tilson February 12, 2014 at 4:34 pm

FITS NEWS publishing articles from an environmental nut job like Dana Beach, very unfortunate. This idiot thinks he can change Charleston into Amsterdam. Love how he veils his environmental agenda by saying it’s all about saving us money. If the money was going to treehugger subsidies he wouldn’t be quite so concerned.

Bill Meyer February 13, 2014 at 9:40 pm

Maybe they should go a step further besides state priorities and put the road money back into the areas that give the most. You know, the roads out in the country where people live and have to drive the furthest to get to everything. The same roads that are seriously crumbling apart, are too narrow and so poorly maintained. Roads to the homes of the citizens that don’t want to live in the city and the rat race that goes with it. The same roads that are alternate routes during emergency evacuations and bring farm products to market. Maybe they should consider them above some of the others in this state.


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