The status quo in South Carolina scored a decisive legal win this week when the S.C. supreme court affirmed a lower court ruling that tossed out a constitutional challenge to the dubious “roads bill” passed by state lawmakers nearly three years ago.
We believe the case had merit, but the justices disagreed …
Some background: Prior to approving a draconian, regressive gasoline tax hike in 2017, the Palmetto State’s fiscally liberal state legislature passed a massive borrowing bill for infrastructure in 2016. These two bills came on the heels of billions of dollars in new budget appropriations for the scandal-scarred S.C. Department of Transportation (SCDOT). Unfortunately, these funding increases have failed to materially improve the deplorable state of roads and bridges.
Hold up: How is it that billions of dollars in new spending on roads and bridges has failed to produce positive outcomes for motorists? Easy: In the Palmetto State, road projects are funded on the basis of politics – not need. And sadly, efforts to reorient this galling lack of prioritization have come up short repeatedly over the years.
Rather than fixing the state’s broken and corrupt system of infrastructure funding, lawmakers have opted to keep pumping more money into it … which has only increased the price of failure.
As our regular readers are aware, this news outlet’s founding editor Will Folks has tried to do something about this situation. In addition to opposing unnecessary tax hikes and pushing for greater accountability in appropriating revenues, Folks has a lawsuit pending against the state over the gasoline tax increase – a.k.a. Act 40 of 2017.
Folks’ suit claims the tax hike violated the state’s constitutional prohibition against laws relating to more than one subject.
“Every Act or resolution having the force of law shall relate to but one subject, and that shall be expressed in the title,” Article III, Section 17 of the S.C. Constitution (.pdf) states.
Specifically, the suit alleges that various “add-ons” to the bill – which were attached with the intention of luring reluctant State Senators into supporting it – addressed “completely unrelated subjects” to the subject of the legislation, i.e. our state’s infrastructure.
Had these add-ons not been included, the bill never would have cleared the State Senate … but with them, it fails to pass constitutional muster.
At least that’s our view …
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A similar lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the $2.2 billion borrowing bill was filed in October of 2016 by Greenville, S.C. gadfly Ned Sloan and the S.C. Public Interest Foundation (SCPIF).
Sloan argued the bill – Act 275 of 2016 – was also violative of the constitutional prohibition against laws relating to more than one subject.
This challenge was dismissed in July of 2017 by S.C. circuit court judge Casey Manning, and on Friday the S.C. supreme court unanimously affirmed Manning’s ruling – stating that “all of (the 2016 law’s) provisions reasonably and inherently relate to the improvement of the state’s transportation infrastructure system.”
“While the Court has not hesitated to strike down legislation that violates the One Subject Rule, the Court has also respected the separation of powers doctrine and upheld legislation where a close question is presented,” justice John Kittredge wrote for the court. “The constitutional challenge to Act 275 does not present a close question – Act 275 manifestly complies with the One Subject Rule.”
Here is the order …
(Via: S.C. Courts)
We disagree with the court’s ruling … and are troubled by its potential implications for the gas tax case.
Justices – who are appointed by lawmakers – should not bend the constitution to fit legislative intent, but should rather hold legislative intent accountable to the constitution.
They manifestly failed to do so in this case …
Furthermore, we believe the borrowing bill is unconstitutional on multiple grounds. As we’ve repeatedly pointed out, Article X, Section 13, Subsection 9 of the state constitution (.pdf) allows lawmakers to incur indebtedness for public purposes only if such debt “does not involve revenues from any tax.”
This provision is habitually violated, though, and we believe it to have been violated in this case. We also believe lawmakers have been playing fast and loose with these definitions as it relates to the even bigger money grab they made in 2017 – all while bragging to taxpayers about their “balanced budgets.”
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