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SC Gas Tax Spoils: Inside Jobs

“Fixing our roads?” Gas tax revenues are flowing to those who lobbied to raise the gas tax …

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Like most mainstream media outlets in South Carolina, television station WIS TV-10 (NBC – Columbia, S.C.) was a relentless cheerleader for the massive tax increase that passed the S.C. General Assembly earlier this year.

This huge new levy – which went into effect on July 1 – included increases in the gas tax and numerous other taxes and fees.  All told, it will deprive the Palmetto State’s economy of an estimated $1.8 billion over the next six years and around $600 million annually each and every year thereafter.

Supporters claim the money – which comes on top of prior spending increases and borrowing bills – will “fix our roads.”

In fact that’s what they dubbed their lobbying campaign – “Fix Our Roads.”

Is that actually going to happen?  LOL … no.

“You would think the imposition of such a massive tax increase would translate immediately into widespread, noticeable improvements in the roads and bridges South Carolinians traverse on a daily basis,” we wrote in the aftermath of the tax hike becoming law. “Unfortunately, recent spending increases and debt hikes didn’t do that – nor is this new law likely to accomplish such improvements given its failure to address the root problems with our state’s infrastructure funding mechanisms.  We’re not saying it won’t fix some roads, but it’s not going to make the sort of impact its supporters are promising their constituents.”

Why not?

Well, as reporter Tim Smith of The Greenville News noted in an expansive piece earlier this year, “one out of every four dollars that goes into the state Department of Transportation’s coffers has been spent on debt or shifted to other agencies, and much of the remainder has been designated for uses other than resurfacing or rehabilitating the state’s deteriorating roads.”

In other words, the system is broken … something we’ve been screaming for years.

“The current system is corrupt,” we wrote in a 2015 article exposing efforts by the S.C. Department of Transportation (SCDOT) to quash audits that reflected poorly on its stewardship of taxpayer resources.  “And no amount of additional money is going to fix that.”

(Click to view)

(Via: iStock)

Since the tax hike passed, nothing has changed.  Unnecessary projects remain at the forefront of the state’s transportation agenda, and the politicians who ought to be insisting upon better have been bought and paid for.

Anyway, at least WIS – specifically anchor Greg Adaline – is at long last doing a bit of digging on where the money from this new levy is going.

Adaline is out with a three-part series on the subject, breaking down how many contracts have been issued with tax hike revenue, how much those contracts are worth and perhaps most importantly, who got them.  And while we would obviously file this under the category of “closing the barn door after the horse has escaped,” we’re glad the station is finally engaging on behalf of the interests of the taxpaying, road-driving public (as opposed to propagandizing on behalf of our state’s corrupt politicians).

So … what did Adaline find?

According to his report, roughly 75 percent of the initial money collected from the new tax hike ($20 million out of $26.5 million) was routed to companies affiliated with the “Fix Our Roads” lobbying organization.  In the second round of collections, that total jumped to 89 percent ($34.7 million out of a total of $39 million).

Pretty cozy, huh?

Furthering the “inside jobs” speculation, of the 45 individual contracts awarded in connection with tax hike revenues – less than half received three or more bids.  Thirteen received only two bids, and another thirteen received only one bid.

“That is not what you would call a robust, competitive process ensuring the best deal for taxpayers,” S.C. Policy Council president Ashley Landess told Adaline.

No, it is not …

This website’s founding editor, Will Folks, has filed a lawsuit challenging the new levy.  And while there were any number of grounds upon which to bring such a lawsuit, Folks’ complaint (.pdf) contends that the S.C. General Assembly violated the state’s constitution when they passed this massive tax hike – a.k.a. Act 40 of 2017.

For the latest on that challenge, click here.

In the meantime, props to Adaline for doing some much-needed digging on these contracts and props to WIS for airing his investigative report.  Also, props to Landess and her organization for its ongoing work on this issue.

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