If not a gas tax hike, how to repair roads?
Tuesday, March 18, 2014 12:00 AM
You don't have to drive beyond the Lakelands to know far too many South Carolina roads and highways are in deplorable condition. Some look as though they were broken apart by the 4.1 earthquake that hit Edgefield earlier this year, some look as though they have Florida-styled sinkholes.
What will it take to fix these roads and some of our bridges that are on the brink of collapse? Money.
Where will that money come from? Good question.
A fairly standard source for maintaining state roads and highways is the gas tax, but the mere mention of increasing our state's gas tax will get as friendly a look as invoking the "U" word. You know, "union."
South Carolina has not increased its gasoline tax since 1988, but support for doing so might be gaining some ground and momentum, even among lawmakers and others in the private sector who typically align along conservative lines.
Lakelands lawmakers and S.C. Chamber of Commerce president Otis Rawl addressed the topic last week during the Greenwood Chamber's annual Legislative Breakfast. And what might have been surprising for some was to hear Sen. Billy O'Dell and Rawl speaking favorably about increasing the gas tax as a means of paying for much-needed road repairs.
Yes, the word "tax" is unpopular, especially in a state in which many well-meaning tea partyers live and vote, but at some point we must take a hard look at the realities facing our state. Deplorable road conditions are not conducive to continued economic development. Prospective businesses and industries do not only look at quality of life, schools and tax incentives when choosing a new location to set up shop. They also look at infrastructure, and good roads are vital to moving production materials and goods.
Gov. Nikki Haley made clear her opposition to increasing the gas tax, but perhaps she will change her mind — if not now, perhaps after the November election. She has seen a groundswell of support among Democrat and Republican lawmakers alike, and she would be hard-pressed not to ride the wake set by them as well as by pro-business operatives such as the state Chamber of Commerce.
A few pennies per gallon tacked onto the price at the pump might not completely cover the estimated $1.2 billion need per year to fix the roads and bridges during the next decade, but it would certainly be a start.
It is unfortunate too many lawmakers have reneged on the job they were elected to do, which is to serve the people and the state well. Part of serving the state well must include being willing to make the tough decisions. But what are the lawmakers who continually say "no" to any gas tax increase going to do when our roads, highways and bridges get worse and when business and industry choose another state? Will they be satisfied in the mere fact they voted against a gas tax increase at the expense of jobs and growth? Where will they lay the blame for that?
It is heartening to witness some lawmakers, such as O'Dell, who are willing to step forward and make the argument for something, despite the impact it might have at the polls among some of his constituents.
And if anyone who opposes raising the gas tax even a few pennies to offset repair costs has a better solution, we're sure O'Dell, Rawl and a host of others would like to hear it. In the interim, however, our roads and bridges continue to deteriorate.