Sunday, Jan. 29, 2006
A toll by another
name is a tax
SC Statehouse Report
29, 2006 - -
A tax is a tax is a tax - - everywhere, it seems, but in the
South Carolina General Assembly.
Over the last two weeks, the General Assembly rushed to pass
a bill, now expected to be signed by the governor, to put
a toll on proposed Interstate 73 in the Pee Dee. It will help
pay for construction of the $2 billion roadway.
Proponents say it's a good way to pay for the road because
it's logical and practical. And it would allow the state to
start raising its 20 percent share of the cost ($400 million),
which will be, in theory, largely funded by the federal government.
Last year, the feds pledged to pump in $81 million of initial
With 14 million visitors a year to Myrtle Beach annually,
a state-backed toll would provide a good start at raising
money to pay the state's share.
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But remember it's a toll, which is just a glorified way of
saying "special tax." (Note to political consultants:
All of the Republicans and Democrats who voted for the toll
proposal actually voted to increase taxes - - despite a "no
new taxes" pledge that a majority of them signed.)
So these tolls are special taxes that will be paid by people
who live in the Pee Dee who use the road - - and visitors
on the way to Myrtle Beach.
The second part is what's attractive to toll proponents.
They like the idea of getting tourists to pay for road improvements
in the state so that state residents don't have to pay so
In theory, that's fine. But there are bigger implications
from using tolls or special taxes to pay for improvements:
Pee Dee residents will pay more. The bill that passed
the Senate and House exempts only state-owned or district-owned
school buses. That means folks in the Pee Dee, already among
the poorest in the state, will also pay a good chunk of the
toll. In turn, Upstate residents who don't use the road much
will pay virtually nothing for its construction. In our representative
democracy in days past, the state funded big statewide needs,
such as Interstate construction, by sharing the burden so
local communities weren't impacted so much.
Infrastructure bank could help. The State Transportation
Infrastructure Bank was set up specifically to deal with large-scale
infrastructure projects, such as the new bridge over the Cooper
River and an Interstate bypass near Augusta in South Carolina.
The fund has about $300 million in its kitty to use for large
projects. It could dole out a certain portion over a few years
if it took a disciplined approach.
Other alternatives exist. If lawmakers wanted to fund
the project on a statewide basis, it could consider raising
the tax on gasoline, which appears to be the lowest in the
South at 16 cents per gallon, according to the Federation
of Tax Administrators. If the state raised the tax by a penny,
it would generate $31 million annually, according to SC Senate
What rankles about the use of a special tax to pay for a
specific need is the burden is not shared by all. Approval
of the toll for the construction of Interstate 73 is a relatively
easy way out politically. But more importantly, it shifts
the state ever further away from having leaders with the courage
and vision to generate revenues to benefit people throughout
"Government is supposed to determine the priorities
for public needs, raise the money the best way to do it, and
apportion the money the best way it can to meet the needs,"
Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, reflected this week.
But Hutto, who helped to stall the I-73 toll bill temporarily
by proposing a toll on I-95 to help pay for deteriorating
conditions on that highway, agreed that in today's politically
charged environment, most lawmakers don't take the "shared
burden" approach to government. And that causes leaders
to resort to gimmicks like tolls and impact fees to raise
the revenue to get things done.
Gimmicks aside, tolls are taxes. And if you don't want to
pay more in taxes, you need to realize your leaders just voted
to increase yours.
Another great cartoon from Bill McLemore:
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Get rid of property taxes
To the editor:
My personal feelings are to do away with the property tax
on homes. Have property tax on luxury item, such as boats,
extra cars etc. If there is any property tax on homes, taxes
it when someone purchase a new home and it capped until the
house is sold. At such time a new owner would then be taxed
on the new assessed value.
If we keep assessing the values of homes every few years the
property tax increases your mortgage payments to the point
that would make you have to sell. If can't sell your home
for the amount assessed you have lost your home, what do you
do then !!!!!!
My mortgage payment has increased from $632 to $847 because
of property tax. I am on a fixed income so this is a jump
of the amount of money for myself. I know I am not the only
one in this situation. If my mortgage rate stays the same
and the increase gets even higher the it forces people to
-- Linda C. Guerry, Charleston, SC
Bank board funding is devious
To the editor:
Perhaps in the minds of some elected officials the use of
Bank Boards to get funds that may otherwise not be obtainable
to accomplish certain projects is desirable. As far as most
tax paying citizens in Horry County are concerned, the use
of the Bank Board to obtain funding for construction of needed
State Highways is a devious and underhanded way of getting
around responsibility of the State Department Of Transportation.
The customary and usual means of paying for transportation
needs is through a user fee such as gas tax. In the case of
certain State Highways in Horry County such as Highway 31
(Carolina Bays Parkway) the States Bank Board along with local
funding by means of a Local Option Sales tax was used to get
the job done. By requiring Horry County to pony up its share,
using a local sales tax, was unprecedented and set a precedence
that is a break in tradition. Traditionally, State Funds should
be used for repair of construction of State Highways and Local
funds used for local roads.
Citizens of Horry County are presently paying thousands in
Sales Tax plus interest to a State Bank Board, whatever that
is, for State Highways. Yet South Carolina has one of the
lowest gas taxes in the U.S.A. It is time this state bites
the bullet and sticks to its age old agreement "State
Funds for State Roads." "Federal Funds For Federal
Roads" and Local Funds For Local Roads"
Frankly, I think South Carolina should refund Horry County
the funds it paid thus far to the Transportation Bank Board
to fund State Highways in the county and rescind its demand
that our local government pay up for a service that is the
State's responsibility. It's time for a change! Stop shifting
-- Bob Logan, Little River, SC
- 1/1: Stop
public smoking, Name withheld, Elgin, SC
- 12/29: Drivers
are only part of the problem, Philippe Felsenhardt,
- 12/27: Driver
responsibility, Frank Hamilton, Beaufort, SC
- 12/27: Nothing
done about speeding, Russell Menz, Bluffton, SC
- 12/26: Truckers
cause problems on road too, Jeffrey Sewell,
- 12/22: Workers'
comp needs different overhaul, Name withheld, Aiken,
Here's a "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" related to various
political news items from the past week:
Smith. Rep. James E. Smith, D-Richland, reads his
bills, apparently, catching a misstep in an otherwise well-intended
bill to protect poor residents from having their heating/cooling
utilities turned off in extreme weather. That happened more
than a week ago, but Smith's alarm turned others' heads this
past week when the House committee took back the passed legislation
and amended it before the House passed it again. The misstep?
The bill contained a $200,000 cap on utility liability in
case a death or an illness resulted from electricity or gas
being cut off. That's out of the bill, and utilities must
take full liability. Too bad the bill didn't also mandate
magnifying glasses and remedial bill reading courses for legislators.
Hutto. Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, is leaving the
driving to another interstate away. At one point two weeks
ago, Hutto helped delay an I-73 interstate tolling bill by
adding an amendment to add I-95 for tolling, too. Ten counties,
banded together as the North Eastern Strategic Alliance from
Marlboro to Horry, had pushed for the I-73 bill to help speed
up construction and wanted it done quickly. This past week,
Hutto relented by removing the amendment, and all is happy
in NESA country since the governor has supported I-73 and
will sign the bill soon. Hutto plans a separate bill for I-95,
but the governor opposes it.
School opening. Opponents of a bill to set a mid-August
date as the earliest school-opening seem to have forgotten
one important thing. They continue to hammer on the Grand
Strand for its effort to extend the tourism season and thus
to make more money, but they fail to realize that residents
of the state also want the extra summer time vacation. Last
year, the later opening bill was stopped by local school board
concerns in the Upstate primarily, but after more than a few
parents buttonholed legislators, those legislators came on
board. The opponents seem to have have taken their own vacations
away from the grassroots voters.
Voucher proponents. A sack of potatoes to proponents
of the warmed-over education voucher plan which was introduced
this week by Rep. Tracy Edge, R-Horry. It's still a voucher
and still a bad idea because it drains money from public schools.
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