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More Upstate Road Funding Shenanigans

Conservative lawmakers facing “pay-to-play” scrutiny over developer’s road project …

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The last time this news site launched a broadside against local infrastructure funding in South Carolina it didn’t end well for us.  In fact we got schooled, although the good news is our teacher was Leslie Haas – the brilliant, badass and breathtakingly beautiful model marketer” from Greenville, S.C.

Anyway, our original report raised some legitimate questions about the mechanics of local road project prioritization and approval.

Those questions may not be as exciting as Leslie (not even close, actually), but they still matter …

In case you hadn’t noticed, South Carolina’s infrastructure situation is much like everything else state government subsidizes – Mo’ Money, Mo Problems.

And if you think the massive $1.8 billion tax hike the state’s “Republican” leaders approved last year is going to fix those problems, think again.

Given the broken system all of this money is flowing through, it’s only going to make failure more expensive.

At every step of the road funding process in the Palmetto State, politics trumps priorities.  In fact some funds – like the S.C. Department of Transportation (SCDOT)’s “C-Fund” program – are set up to encourage pork barrel projects.

The “C-Fund” routes 2.66 cents of the state’s gasoline tax to local “county transportation committees” – whose members are appointed by the local legislative delegation. In the case of Spartanburg County, S.C., though, the money is directly appropriated by lawmakers.

How do we know this?  Because we’ve stumbled upon an interesting case study involving two of South Carolina’s most fiscally conservative state lawmakers – Josiah Magnuson and Steven Long.

To be clear: Magnuson and Long are our kind of elected officials.

They have consistently embraced pro-freedom, pro-free market views – and more importantly they have voted in accordance with those views.

That’s why it surprised us to see them associated with what appears to be a typical Columbia, S.C. “pay-to-play” scam.

Last December, Magnuson received three $1,000 contributions from entities affiliated with Campobello, S.C. builder Ryan C. Kaiser.

Three weeks later, on January 20, the first-term lawmaker submitted a request that $60,750 of the “C Funds” at his disposal should be transferred outside of his district to subsidize a road widening project Kaiser is pushing near Lake Lyman, S.C.

Take a look …

(Click to view)

(Via: Provided)

Meanwhile, Long received four $1,000 contributions in late December – one from Kaiser personally and three from the same affiliated companies that lined Magnuson’s pockets.

On January 10, the first-term legislator sent an email to county officials indicating that he had organized a group of Upstate lawmakers – himself included – who were appropriating an estimated $181,489 of their “C-Fund” monies to the same project.

“Several of us would like to put the remainder of our set aside funding towards the Lake Lyman Heights Rd project,” Long’s email noted.

Take a look …

(Click to view)

(Via: Provided)

With these commitments in hand, Kaiser wrote a letter the same day (January 10) to the Steve Belue Public Works Infrastructure Fund – an entity established by Spartanburg County in 2015 – asking county officials to contribute $93,511 toward the project.

In his letter, Kaiser noted that one of his companies – Enchanted Construction Service – would “contribute $100,000 for the improvements.”

We reached out to both Magnuson and Long for comment early Monday regarding this matter.  Magnuson told us he would provide us with a statement, but as of this writing we have not received it.  Long told us he would call us, as of this writing we have not heard from him.

He did tell us the project in question was a “good thing.”

“Anytime we can negotiate for a private business owner to give the taxpayers $100,000 is a good thing,” he told us.

We concur … assuming the project in question is in the taxpayers’ best interests, and not a sop to a wealthy developer.

Is the Lake Lyman Heights Road project in the public’s interest?  We don’t know, but Kaiser is clearly itching to get it completed for some reason … (maybe that his firm is preparing a huge subdivision project off of Lyman Lake).

Irrespective of the project’s merits (or Kaiser’s potential financial windfall in the event he gets his $275,000 in taxpayer funding), we believe the campaign contributions received by Long and Magnuson raise serious red flags.

Again, both of these elected officials have earned our trust – and the trust of taxpayers – during their short time in the state capital.  We would hate to see them throw it all away on such a sadly typical scandal.

Long and Magnuson should return Kaiser’s money.  Furthermore, they should call for this project to be subjected the same prioritization standards every infrastructure expenditure (local, state or federal) ought to receive.  If it doesn’t make the cut, then Kaiser can spend his own money on this intersection.

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