In my last newsletter, I talked about how slow the beginning of session started. Well, that’s over! I believe we have had a very productive session so far, but in the end, it will still be judged on whether we pass a solid Roads Bill or not.
On the Senate calendar now, with objections to it, is the House of Representative’s Roads Bill as it was amended coming out of the Senate Finance Committee. The two main adjustments to the bill were that the Finance Committee took the Department of Transportation (DOT) reform out and they raised the $600 million a year to roughly $800 million a year after a six-year ramp up period.
Everyone in the Senate believes the roads are a problem and that we need a long term funding solution to solve it. On Wednesday, a vote was taken to set the Roads Bill to “Special Order” – meaning we debate it despite objections on the bill. Not because we don’t want to fix the roads – but because the majority of the Majority party is in the minority on the issue at this point. There are at least 18 of us that believe we need DOT reform and Tax Reform before we pass any plan that includes the gas tax. We needed this vote in order to be taken seriously in the negotiations. It doesn’t mean a Roads Bill won’t pass this year.
When you hear DOT reform, what does that mean?
Currently we have a $2.3 billion dollar company that has two different bosses. Basically, the Governor selects the DOT Secretary and the Legislature elects the commissioners. The DOT Secretary reports to the Governor and the commissioners report to the legislature, creating a dysfunctional system at the top. There is no one reading this newsletter that would invest more money in a company with this dysfunctional system of management.
We are pushing for reform that takes the legislature out of “controlling” commissioners. Some are taking a hard line and saying a cabinet position or nothing. That may sound great to some, but what happens in reality is that weakens our negotiating power – especially when you are already in the minority. The number one concern I heard expressed is that people want to know the money is going to the roads. With some reform – that may appear to be a small detail to a few – it will go a long way in assuring that all “new” money goes to the Roads and not into some black hole as many believe.
Why “tax reform”?
We have the money. The BEA (Bureau of Economic Analysis) projects our General Fund Budget (the portion of the budget the legislature controls), to grow at a little over 4% per year for the next 10 years – from $8.2 billion to almost $12.8 billion. The largest portion of this growth is income tax and we have the highest personal income tax in the Southeast (which is not a competitive advantage). We can fund the roads out of growth and pay for a sustainable roads plan out of the General Fund, but that puts the burden of the roads on the worker, not the user, and we collect nothing from out of state people using our roads.
We would like to see a combination of income tax decreases targeted at families making under a combined $60,000 family income (which is over 80% of South Carolinians.) In addition, we want to see college tuition credits increased and opened to Tech Schools, along with some corporate property rates reduced. All of the “tax relief” is geared toward economic and workforce development. This is almost the same plan I wrote about last year in my newsletter and the year before in an editorial to the Greenville News.
In the end, I know most could care less how the sausage is made – just fix the roads! I believe we will get a strong long-term funding plan to give us the infrastructure we need in order to make South Carolina an even better and safer place to live for each of us and our families, and for companies to invest.
Next week is Budget Week in the Senate. Please feel free to contact my office in Columbia. The number is (803) 212-6148. As my email response states, while I can’t return every call or email, I get every message and appreciate your input.
Thank you again for the honor to serve District 8.