A task force that spent the last year studying South Carolina's roads and bridges has concluded that it would cost an additional $30 billion over the next 20 years just to bring the state's roads up to a level of "good".
The Transportation Infrastructure Task Force was made up of transportation professionals and citizens from across the state. The task force's report says it’s not recommending any particular solution, but is describing the situation and offering alternatives for consideration by the state's leadership. It would be up to state lawmakers and the governor to change the SCDOT's funding.
"We can't go on like this," says Craig Forrest, a DOT commissioner and chairman of the task force. He realizes that drivers around the state don't like the thought of higher taxes or fees to improve roads and bridges. "I guess the choice of a citizen is, are we going to have our roads in a good enough shape for us to drive on? Is our transit going to be adequate? Are we going to have increased congestion?"
He says not improving our roads makes it harder to be competitive with other states when trying to attract new businesses and jobs.
The report says the reason South Carolina roads are in bad shape is because of a number of factors, including inflation and the state's gas tax. The state gets 16.75 cents in tax for every gallon of gas. But while the cost of materials and labor to build roads has gone up, the state's gas tax hasn't increased since 1987. And since cars are getting better gas mileage, gas tax revenues have remained relatively flat, even while there are more cars driving more miles and causing more wear and tear on our roads.
Another option, besides raising the gas tax, is to remove the current sales tax exemption for gas. Right now, you don't pay state sales tax on gas. Removing that exemption would bring in nearly $700 million a year. The sales tax would be collected at the supplier level.
Other options include:
Raising the driver's license fee, which is currently $2.50 a year, the lowest in the Southeast. The Southeastern average, excluding SC, is $4.39 a year.
Raising the car registration fee. The fee was lowered to $12 a year from $17 in 1987.
Raising truck registration fees.
Raising, or eliminating, the current $300 sales tax cap on vehicles and send that additional money to the DOT.
Rick Todd, a member of the task force and president and CEO of the SC Trucking Association, says, "We would, at the end of the day, support a fuel tax increase, probably over the other options that are out there because it's just so efficient to collect and you can't evade it, and we're so much lower than our sister states. But it doesn't mean that we prefer it. You know, it's kind of like, well, if you've got to pick your poison, that's the one we would pick."
He says he would prefer to work with the legislature to see if they would direct some General Fund money toward roads and bridges. Right now, the DOT gets all its money from the gas tax and the federal government, with none coming from the General Fund.
"The issue then becomes you're wrestling for a limited pot of money with all the other groups," Todd says. "You're wrestling with K through 12, Medicaid, law enforcement and those that are deemed to be priority expenditures by the state. So it's a matter of whether roads rise to the level of being a top priority."
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