Late Wednesday night, the South Carolina Senate was able to pass a Roads bill that included both a gas tax on the revenue side and some much needed DOT Reform. I voted in favor of the bill that will generate close to $600 million dollars in sustainable funds after its full implementation.
As I struggled with the decision on how to vote, I was reminded of watching game film with my high school coach, Bill Utsey. The ball had snapped and I took a step (I was an offensive lineman), and then stood straight up and did nothing. Coach Utsey sat there with the film going back and forth and said, “Turner – what are you doing?” I replied that I didn’t know who to hit. He said “Turner – If you are gonna make a mistake – make it full speed! Don’t stand there doing nothing!”
Some believe I made a “Full Speed” mistake with my vote this week, and have expressed that to me in no uncertain terms. Many have said thanks for making a tough decision. I appreciate those. I was not kicking the can down the road again and do nothing!
In the past two days, I have received emails claiming that I never communicate with my constituents. On the contrary, in every town hall meeting (3 per year – one in Mauldin, one in Simpsonville, and one in Fountain Inn), newsletter, and speech I have given regarding “fixing the roads” over the last 3 years, I have said I would vote for the gas tax- but only if it included DOT Reform and tax relief for South Carolinians.
Here is a quick summary of how we got to the end bill. The House, in an overwhelming vote, sent us a straight gas tax bill with a little DOT reform. The bill then went to Senate Finance and came out as a straight gas tax with no DOT reform. They already had enough votes to pass the straight gas tax with no DOT Reform, so we had to fight to get DOT reform and tax reform for South Carolinians. The 6 guys that were never going to vote for a gas tax put us in an even tougher negotiating position.
H 3516 does not have everything I wanted, but it does have the much needed DOT Reform and some tax relief for South Carolinians. The overwhelming message I heard from constituents was “I am fine with the gas tax, but only if we know the money will get to the roads.” The DOT reform we were able to amend the bill with goes a long way to giving the power to the Governor and taking it away from the legislature. Without this reform, I was not voting for the bill.
The reform includes:
1- Giving the Governor the ability to fire DOT commissioners without going through the legislature to do it. Who’s your boss? The one that can fire you.
2- Added transparency – the Secretary of DOT must publish annual reports on the DOT website that give details on how money is spent, county by county, as well as publish a list of each company that receives money from the DOT and how much.
3- DOT commissioners are prohibited from having any conflict of interest, direct or indirect (family), in any contract or any other benefit provided by DOT during his/her term and one year after that term ends.
4- Added a second at-large member to the SC DOT Commission to be appointed by the Governor.
But this is not over. The bill still goes back to the House and then likely to a conference committee that will change the bill. After that, we will vote to send it to the Governor who we expect to veto it. Without the DOT reform, the bill will not be “Veto Proof” and I will likely not vote for it again. Click here to see the detailed breakdown of the funding side of the bill.
In the end, most of the people that voted for me said they did so because they believed that I would do the right thing. The right thing to do is fix the roads. No – I do not agree with 100% of this plan, as evidenced by my amendment votes to correct it. Yes – I have a lot of opinions on why we ended up with a financially “watered down” bill. Five years ago when I decided to run for the South Carolina Senate, I said I was doing it to make South Carolina an even better place for my children and my future grandchildren. My vote on the roads bill was a big step toward fulfilling that promise.