S.C. Statehouse Report
Sunday, Jan. 29, 2006
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/06.0129.tolling.htm

A toll by another name is a tax
By Andy Brack
SC Statehouse Report

JAN. 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 costs.

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 much.

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 figures.

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 the state.

"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.

lighter side
1/29: Cartoon antics

Another great cartoon from Bill McLemore:

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1/25: 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 sell..........Frustrated !!!!!!!!!

-- Linda C. Guerry, Charleston, SC

1/22: 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 responsibility!

-- Bob Logan, Little River, SC

Recent feedback:


Here's a "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" related to various political news items from the past week:

Thumbs up

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.

Thumbs down

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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