Opinion – Dave Schwartz, Freedom Action Network
In early 2017 state legislators passed the largest gas tax hike in state history.
The House and Senate overwhelmingly voted to increase our taxes at the pump by 72%, progressively adding 12-cents per gallon on top of the 17-cents they were already collecting from us.
They also jacked up the vehicle sales tax, registration and license fees.
I remember watching politicians line up on the Statehouse floor promising to fix our roads.
They promised priority lists and transparency for taxpayers.
Legislators swore that the old days of “horse trading” behind closed doors and corruption were over. They even promised an Al Gore-styled “lockbox” to ensure the billions (with a “b”) they were about to take from us would only go to repair existing roads and bridges, not their pet projects.
However, nearly two years and $500 million later it has become obvious to South Carolinians that those promises were nothing but lies. The entire gas tax was a scam. A hoax. And the behind-closed-doors corruption is alive and well in the Statehouse.
You don’t have to drive very far on state roads to see the truth. Whether it’s Walnut Grove Road outside of Woodruff, Highway 701 near Conway or the Wando River Bridge in Mount Pleasant, our roads and bridges are still crumbling.
And, believe me, it’s not because they don’t have enough of our money.
According to the South Carolina Department of Transportation’s (SCDOT) own financials they’ve collected nearly half of a billion dollars at the pump, just from the new gas tax hike. However, they’ve only spent about 10% of that money on external projects.
Bottom line: our roads are still crumbling because of political corruption and incompetence, not a lack of money. So what the heck are they doing with our money?
Instead of actually fixing our roads and bridges, SCDOT is running public relations campaigns with snazzy social media videos that try to fool us into believing they’re fixing our roads.
Earlier this month SCDOT started one of these PR campaigns called the “pothole blitz.” They think we’re stupid enough to believe SCDOT is on top of their repair game across the state.
The “pothole blitz,” like the gas tax hike, is a sham.
Not only has SCDOT spent less to fix potholes since the gas tax hike went into effect, they’re doing shoddy work when they fill them. Their “pothole blitz hotline” is filled with complains that potholes have turned into sinkholes just days after SCDOT performed a job.
Meanwhile, in the Statehouse, our legislators are scheming to funnel our gas tax money to the State Infrastructure Bank (SIB) – also known as Corrupt Hugh Leatherman’s slush fund.
As the Senate Finance Committee Chairman, Corrupt Hugh Leatherman is still the most powerful politician in the state. And he still owns part of Florence Concrete – a company that has received tens of millions of our dollars in SCDOT contracts. He also still controls the SIB, a shady state agency that finances massive amounts of debt to build new pet projects, not repair existing roads.
Just this month Leatherman’s slush fund pledged to divert $400 million of our gas tax dollars to a 35 mph “parkway” with bicycle lanes in Charleston. There is also reason to believe that politicians like Leatherman and his lobbyists cohorts are concocting another money funneling scheme through the SIB to finance the mother of all South Carolina pet projects: the $2 billion Interstate 73 on the coast. The proposed route of I-73 was flooded out in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence last year and estimates to “flood-proof” the highway would mean the cost could triple to $6 billion.
Not only do these state politicians divert money from necessary repairs to build these unnecessary pet projects, but then they leave us with the bill to maintain them as well.
Who is to blame? Our state legislators and the Governor must be held accountable for our crummy roads. They appoint the powerful SCDOT Commissioners who decide where, when and how to spend our money.
They approve SCDOT’s budget, which has more than doubled over the last decade.
And many of these politicians in Columbia have no problem shoveling our gas tax dollars into pet projects. Gov. McMaster lobbied hard for the “parkway” with bicycle lanes in Charleston. State legislators like Alan Clemmons are doing everything in their power to help their buddies get rich building I-73.
What can we do to fix our roads? Click here or text KILL to 52886 on your cell phone to demand your state politicians kill Senate Bill 5.
Tell them that they better not let a nickel of our gas tax dollars get into Corrupt Hugh Leatherman’s slush fund – the State Infrastructure Bank. When your state politicians start feeling pressure from you about our crumbling roads, they’ll finally put the pressure on the SCDOT to start fixing our roads.
Ultimately, the Governor who is elected statewide, should be responsible for the entire road system. The legislature needs to pass a bill that eliminates the SCDOT Commission and hands power back over to us.
Dave Schwartz is President of Freedom Action Network of South Carolina, a grassroots organization equipping South Carolinians with the tools to fight corruption, take control of their government and advocate for freedom. HE
can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.