Early in the last session, the House passed and sent to the Senate a bill that increased the user fee or road tax to help bring our roads and bridges up to a reasonable standard of safety and utility, while reducing income taxes for residents but capturing additional revenue from those folks from elsewhere who use our roads.
Included in the bill were also provisions that addressed the manifest need to reform the Department of Transportation (SCDOT) and its financing and prioritization arm, the State Infrastructure Bank (SIB).
It was unanimously supported by your House delegation.
We also passed and sent to the Senate a bill that reformed our state’s ethics regime, which had not been revamped since the aftermath of the “Lost Trust” scandal rocked the General Assembly some 25 years ago.
Both these initiatives came about after months of study and hearings by a series of ad hoc committees appointed by the Speaker. Because I had direct experience with both ethics and transportation infrastructure from my previous decade-long tenure as Chairman of Beaufort County Council, I was appointed to both the Ethics and Transportation committees. Both committee reports were reflected in the abovementioned House-passed bills.
Aside from both bills being currently stuck in the Senate, they both have everything to do with our present circumstance relating to the necessity to improve the overall quality and viability of our roads and bridges, but also why they were allowed to get into such deplorable shape in the first place.
The political machination that allowed both SCDOT and SIB to become so dysfunctional was a result largely of the deterioration of the ethical environment of the General Assembly.
In writing the transportation bill, we assumed that SCDOT estimates included everything they could possibly wish for. Consequently, the House bill requested only around a third of what SCDOT recommended. It also included reforms for both the SCDOT and SIB, due in part because the Senate was not receptive to any overall ethics reform if it applied to them.
Where do we stand now? After rejecting the House roads and ethics bills, the Senate has a number of proposals that stipulate reform of SCDOT and SIB before approving any increase in the user fee-road tax, or any other measure to ameliorate the current unacceptable status of our roads and bridges.
The numbers used to justify this lack of urgency are fanciful at best, and while they make ideological sense, they do not honestly or seriously address the issues.
I am as fiscally conservative as they come. I believe we can have smaller, more efficient government, but not without the trust of the people. If they tell us they want better and safer roads, and we can’t deliver, they rightly view us as incompetent.
If we cannot get our ethical house in order, they will not trust us at all, and they shouldn’t.
Ideological purity and bumper sticker politics might get you elected but will not repair one road or replace one bridge. It will not protect the safety of our families who use those roads and bridges, or protect our economy from the consequences of not maintaining our capital investments.
Weston Newton is the representative for District 120 in the State House of Representatives.