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It’s Time To Govern

 

seanChrisBy: Senator Sean Bennett & Representative Chris Murphy

Voters do not trust the General Assembly and with good reason. We have repeatedly failed to address glaring weaknesses in our state’s infrastructure system and with less than a week to go before we return to Columbia it appears the momentum to deal with the issue has been replaced by excuses as to why, once again, we can’t address our critical road needs. We choose not to participate in this avoidance.

South Carolina requires a complete and systematic overhaul of the way our Department of Transportation (SCDOT) operates and dedicated funding source(s) to repair our crumbling transportation network.  Concepts are in front of us for comprehensive reform ready for consideration and debate. The citizens of South Carolina demand, and expect, action not another legislative session of excuses.  As we work towards solutions, legislation must be crafted to address three major problems plaguing our state’s transportation woes: a woefully deficient structure of authority and governing boards; a lack of dedicated funds for our transportation system, and a disproportionately large state maintained roadway network.


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Any consideration of addressing our infrastructure problems must start with SCDOT.  The bureaucracy of this agency is second to none.  With bureaucracy comes waste, inefficiencies, and lack of accountability.  We must force SCDOT into a competitive bid process whereby they would be forced to bid against private contractors where appropriate.  By injecting free market competition with the private sector, SCDOT will have to become more nimble and responsive.  Going further, we must transition to a design build process to replace the current low bid system. A design build process will force all stakeholders (local government, property owners, utilities, etc.) to the table at the beginning of the construction process helping to mitigate potential delays and cost overruns.

Through agency reform, consideration must be given to the SCDOT Highway Commission. Reforms must eliminate political influence, and move the decision-making process to one which is fact-based.  Ultimately, SCDOT and the Governor would be held directly accountable. As we reform boards, the S.C. Infrastructure Bank Board should not be overlooked.  This entity must continue to facilitate projects where local communities have stepped up to solve their own problems, as has repeatedly occurred in our region.  But in order to be good stewards of limited resources, we must ensure these projects are prioritized within an overall transportation plan, once again removing undue influence.

Any solution to the current woeful condition of our state infrastructure system must also include a new funding source dedicated exclusively to infrastructure.  South Carolina annually appropriates a state budget that is approximately $22 billion.  Of that total budget, the legislature controls approximately $7 billion annually, half of which is dedicated to our education system.  This leaves roughly $3.5 billion annually to finance all other state government responsibilities.  We would favor an appropriate increase in the state’s aged motor vehicle fuel user tax and indexing the user fee to inflation.  However, we must offset this burden on our citizens by evaluating ways to alleviate other inefficient tax burdens.  We must also fight the urge to simplify the discussion by understanding that increasing the motor vehicle fuel tax is not the silver bullet solution to our massive problem.

Finally, we are well aware that South Carolina has a disproportionately high mileage network of “state” roads. In fact, we have the fourth largest system trailing only Texas, North Carolina and Virginia.  SCDOT maintains close the 5,000 miles of roads that are a ¼ mile or less in length.  A real conversation about the maintenance of secondary roads needs to take place.  The state needs to partner with local governments and reward those communities that are willing to step up and share the responsibility of maintaining our neighborhood streets.

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We know there are no easy answers. But we also know that avoiding the debate will have catastrophic results.  Reform alone, as with revenue increases, will not solve our problems. Our crumbling infrastructure affects everyone whether it’s delayed work commutes, difficultly moving children to and from school, slowed emergency response, roadway injuries, or the movement of trade and commerce.  As our population and economy grows we must recognize that quality transportation infrastructure is critical to continuing South Carolina’s momentum as a commerce engine and to the quality of life we have all come to appreciate. And we must, once and for all, break the cycle avoidance… and govern.

Sean Bennett represents S.C. Senate District 38 (Dorchester, Charleston, Berkeley)
Chris Murphy represents S.C. House District 98 (Dorchester)

Filed in: Economic Development, Governance, Leadership, Roads & Infrastructure Tags: ,

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© 2017 Senator Sean M. Bennett. All rights reserved.