MY TURN: Only path to fixing roads may be veto override

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A growing pothole on a major S.C. highway.

A growing pothole on a major S.C. highway.

By Rick Todd | A large coalition of statewide associations and local chambers with personal and business road-user constituencies has sent a letter to the state legislature urging them to pass a real road-fix bill this 2015 session.

Piecemeal funding was provided in 2013 from budget re-directs, appropriations, and one-time surpluses. But long-delayed maintenance and needed major up-grades will cost hundreds of millions more than can be taken from existing state funds.

Basic needs are a fiscal reality, confirmed by objective, rational analysis. We’ve done it, and we represent groups that dislike government regulation and taxation as much or more than any.

Politically-inseparable issues like the state Department of Transportation’s structure/“reform,” how to reduce the number of roads the “state” should be responsible for, and tax cuts further complicate matters.

We assured the legislature that we support the current system of user-fee-based financing of road infrastructure – because businesses and citizens demand services and have been willing to pay for them when the fees are direct, dedicated, fairly-apportioned and efficiently-administered.

It’s been an entire generation since our citizens agreed to pay more for the use of our road system. Our current user-fees do not adjust for inflation unlike other tax revenues that ride up with values/prices. Hence, the buying power of these user fees has been greatly diminished and we are now literally paying the price for inaction, in a myriad of other ways.

Adjusting these user-fees would provide the investment capital required for more modern, safe and efficient road systems which serve our citizens and their commerce.

So, we urge the legislature to act on this initiative in this 2015 session. Because if they don’t, it will likely be years before they can. Here’s why.

Early next year our state will be one of the Republican presidential primary epi-centers, and big-money groups will be here ginning up their bases, railing against (federal) government spending. They will flood our airwaves confusing voters while intimidating our local elected officials.

2016 is also a re-election year for our legislators, and conventional wisdom holds that “taxing’ issues are too hot for even normal election cycles. The most active “tax protesters” are the vocal minority, technology-enabled and energized by out-of-state-financed organizers. We’re already getting robo-calls and other messaging attacking the “gas tax” and our conservative legislators who are willing to tackle and resolve this important issue. We should not allow them to hi-jack an issue that greatly determines our quality of life.

Without action this 2015 legislative session, the governor will beat up on the General Assembly as a whole, and select ones in particular, for “not fixing our roads, not cutting taxes, and the good-old-boys taking back control of the DOT Commission by sunsetting the Secretary’s post.” Even though it’s a win-win-win for her, it keeps the status quo for our roads. That should be unacceptable to everyone.

Cutting and reforming taxes, while well and good, is most difficult because every group, profession and occupation is a “special interest group,” with their own tax preferences. Adjusting road-use fees strictly for road improvements should be separate and distinct from this larger debate. Up to now, it always has been.

We think a better solution is compromise. But if they can’t get close enough, yet find a way to pass a good road-fix bill only to have it vetoed, they’ll have to muster a two-thirds majority within the House and Senate for an override. That’s the legislature’s prerogative as the people’s directly-elected representatives.

In some respects, with a veto override, everybody wins. Our roads will finally get the long-overdue attention they need, the legislators show a super-majority accepted the challenge and bit the bullet collectively, both the legislature and the governor can check this off the state’s priority to-do list, and the governor’s quest for fiscal purity is preserved…she can blame the legislature.

We urge citizens to press their members of the General Assembly to immediately take up the mantra, “I Voted to Fix Our Roads in 2015.”

On that score, we could truly say to our citizens and industry: “It’s a great day in South Carolina!”

J. Richards “Rick” Todd is president and CEO of the S.C. Trucking Association and is active in the Coalition for Road and Bridge Improvements.

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