Sheheen’s plan for roads (first, no gas tax increase, which is a BAD thing…)

Vincent Sheheen has presented his plan for fixing roads in South Carolina, and right off the bat, he loses me by saying he wouldn’t do the most obvious thing that needs to be done — increase the gas tax in order to pay for it all.

Here’s his release:

Sheheen Releases Plan to Rebuild Roads & Bridges
Gubernatorial candidate lays out plan to responsibly invest in infrastructure and restore safety after years of neglect
Camden, SC. – Today, Sen. Vincent Sheheen released his plan of action to rebuild roads and bridges in South Carolina. The plan lays out a responsible course of action to improve safety and efficiency of the state’s infrastructure immediately and for the long term.
Sen. Sheheen’s plan centers around four key components that will increase accountability and lead the state to responsibly invest in infrastructure without having to raise the gas tax: adopt a Fix it First approach to focus on repairing roads before building new ones; reorganize the Department of Transportation to save money, improve accountability, and be more efficient in choosing what gets repaired; issue bonds for an immediate one-time infusion of money to get investments started and create jobs; each year, automatically dedicate five percent of the General Fund and surplus revenue to rebuilding our roads.
This plan of action comes after three years of total neglect to South Carolina’s roads and bridges by Nikki Haley that have left only 15 percent of South Carolina’s roads listed as “in good condition,” left thousands of bridges so unsafe that they are classified as “functionally obsolete,” and made the state’s rural roads the most dangerous in the country according to a new study. The Governor has refused to release a plan on roads until after November’s election.
View Sen. Sheheen’s plan to rebuild roads and bridges, as well as his other ideas for how to improve leadership and accountability in South Carolina, at His book, “The Right Way: Getting the Palmetto State Back on Track” includes an entire chapter on improving transportation infrastructure and is free and also available online, here.
Honest Leadership & Real Accountability to Rebuild SC Road & Bridges
Under Nikki Haley’s administration, South Carolina’s roads, bridges, rail lines, and waterways are in desperate need of repair after years of neglect.
South Carolina had the fifth highest rate of traffic fatalities in the country, according to the US Census. Our rural roads are the deadliest rural roads in the nation, according to a new report released this month. In fact, only 15 percent of our roads are classified as “in good condition” with thousands of our bridges so unsafe that they are classified as “functionally obsolete.”
South Carolina’s families, businesses and taxpayers in general deserve so much better from their government. South Carolina needs honest leadership and real accountability to responsibly fix the roads and bridges – we need a Governor who will make infrastructure a priority.
As a small business owner, and an attorney who has helped families and small businesses grow and succeed, Vincent understands that economic activity depends on a good and viable transportation system. Having reliable roads and bridges is vital to growing the economy from within and attracting companies from out of state. Similarly, as the father of three boys and a native South Carolinian, Vincent knows how imperative it is for families to have safe roads and bridges. Taxpaying citizens should not have to fear for their safety while driving down a road in their town or across a bridge in their community.  And we shouldn’t be embarrassed when visitors come to our state by our dreadful highways.
Adopt a “Fix It First” Approach
South Carolina has the nation’s fourth largest state-maintained transportation network. Additions place an increased burden on an already overburdened maintenance program. If we can’t afford to maintain roads we already have, how can we afford to build new ones? It’s time for honest leadership and a common-sense approach where we fix our roads first.
Vincent’s plan of action
  • Issue an executive order to require the Department of Transportation to adopt the Fix it First rule he has promoted in the Senate.
  • Appoint a Transportation Director to be accountable and use the limited resources to secure the safety of the existing roads.
  • Set benchmarks on Fix-It-First projects to tackle our most crumbling roads first. Hold the DOT accountable to those benchmarks and provide monthly updates on projects to improve transparency.
Transform how we pay to maintain our roads & bridges. 
Currently South Carolina is heavily reliant on the gas tax, which generates about $500 million per year and accounts for 71 percent of all state highway funding. But the gas tax is a declining source of revenue as cars become more fuel efficient. Increasing the gas tax is not going to solve our transportation funding crisis. To succeed, the state must diversify funding and weave together sources to responsibly invest over the long-term.  Because of historic underinvestment in our roads we need to create an additional dedicated funding source and issue bonds to jumpstart needed investments.
Vincent’s plan of action:
  • Issue bonds to fund long-term investment.
    • The use of infrastructure is enjoyed by generations of our citizens. Just like a family takes out a responsible mortgage to buy a house for their long-term success, bonding is a responsible way to invest over multiple years in the future that will help families and businesses alike. The use of bonds would allow the state to inject a tremendous one-time infusion of funds needed to bring our roads up to standards while using other sources of revenue to maintain their integrity.
  • Dedicate five percent of General Fund revenue for roads.
    • As a state, we must decide that road funding is such a priority to deserve a portion of general tax revenue — especially surplus revenue. As governor, Vincent would put forth a budget to phase in the automatic dedication of five percent of the General Fund and surplus revenue to Department of Transportation to repair our roads and bridges.
  • Investigate other sources of revenue.
    • Honest leadership means bringing people together and considering many new ideas while building a bipartisan coalition to move forward and deliver results. As Governor, Vincent will explore potential revenue sources to pay for the repair of roads and bridges, including:
      • Lease rest areas to private businesses to establish gas and food sales at rest stops and generate new revenue.
      • Investigate an out-of-state truck tax to gather funds from those out-of-state who use our roads but don’t pay anything to maintain them. This will generate funds and make South Carolina more competitive with other states’ approaches.
Make the Department of Transportation more accountable
People expect and deserve a government that works and works well – and when it doesn’t, they deserve real accountability. South Carolina can fund its priorities by cracking down on waste, mismanagement, and incompetence to put politics aside and focus on getting results.
Vincent’s plan of action: 
  • Restructure of the state Department of Transportation to make the director answer directly to the governor
  • Abolish the DOT Commission to allow the legislature and governor to manage and set road funding and policy and to increase accountability.
  • Increase oversight from the legislature so that with new leadership we could have real accountability.
  • Combine the State Infrastructure Bank with the Department of Transportation to provide a consolidated and accountable approach to road improvements and maintenance.
View this release online, here.

Yes, restructuring DOT — as we failed to do in 1993, and again in 2007 (because, in both cases, the General Assembly did not want to reform DOT) — is a great idea. It’s a no-brainer, something that should have been done long, long ago.

And I commend Sen. Sheheen for presenting a plan, instead of playing the game that Nikki Haley is playing — saying she’ll have a plan for us, but only after the election.

But if announcing your plan before the election means you feel compelled to avoid the most obvious way of paying for your proposal, then something important is lost.

Again, we have a way to pay for roadwork. It’s the gasoline tax. It has been held artificially, ridiculously low for far too long. There’s no need to run all over creation trying to find some other way to pay for infrastructure when we have a way to do it already. It’s a particularly bad idea to cut into funding available for all the other functions of government that don’t have a dedicated funding stream (“automatically dedicate five percent of the General Fund”), to pay for a governmental function that does have a dedicated funding stream — a common-sense one tied to use.

9 thoughts on “Sheheen’s plan for roads (first, no gas tax increase, which is a BAD thing…)

  1. Silence

    Well, as I’ve said before, I support the concept of “fix it first” – effectively a moratorium on new projects until we can properly maintain our existing infrastructure. That part is OK. He’s not going to be able to get the kind of “savings” he needs through reorganizing SCDOT or doing a better job of prioritizing repair projects. The money just won’t be there to fix the backlog of repairs. Borrowing additional funds through a large immediate bond issue just kicks the can down the road, the state will end up paying a whole lot more in the long-run to fix our problems. It’s the kind of short-term thinking that keeps us mired in fiscal problems.
    As to dedicating 5% of the general fund and “surplus” revenue – he’s doubly wrong there. First, what does he propose to cut in order to increase SCDOT funding? Secondly, if our legislature is spending it, it’s not “surplus” revenue at all!

    This is purely an election-year stunt, and there’s nothing real, concrete, or feasible on the table. While I disagree in principle with ANY tax increase (sorry Brad), Sheheen’s not showing the kind of testicular fortitude and leadership that needs to be demonstrated. With what he’s shown thus far, there’s no reason to reject the status quo and vote for a change, cause it’s just more of the same crapola.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      If not a gas tax increase (or simply the kind of indexing to inflation that should have been in place all along), then how do you propose to pay for it? You don’t want bonds (even though infrastructure is just the sort of thing you issue debt for), and you don’t want it coming from the general fund. So where would it come from?

      1. bud

        Silence, I had the exact same thought as Brad. No gas tax. No bonds. No general fund money. So what? Magic fairy dust made of asphalt.

        1. Silence

          I said I disagree in principle with any tax increase, but obviously money’s gotta come from somewhere. My big beef here is that all of his solutions are a bunch of bullcrap, and he’s not exactly showing any leadership. In fact, the state Democratic party are looking like a bunch of B and C listers. Nobody’s really stepping up and showing me any reason to vote for them.

  2. Mark Stewart

    The gas tax should be recalibrated – it isn’t really an increase as the tax rate was so much higher when it was first instituted. Anything that ignores inflation is an ignorant way of dealing with long range planning issues.

    Then, the State Highway Secondary System should be off-loaded onto the counties – and the legislature should provide them with the tools (taxing and operational authority) to maintain the roads. If people, like in Horry, Greenville, Charleston and Lexington and Richland Counties want new local roads, then they can vote on them and pay for them. Otherwise, the State should focus on the main highways and interstates; quite a few of which will continue to require additions (I would leave I-73 off of this list).

    Just about every way that SC chooses to handle it’s infrastructure represents the worst practice standards – not the best. Anyone surprised?

    1. Silence

      Mark, I’m generally inclined to agree with you about devolving government to the most local possible levels, but that’s basically how we end up with things like “the corridor of shame” where the taxing entity (county or school district or whomever) can’t raise enough funds to fund their projects. By funding state highways at the state level, poorer, rural counties can still maintain a viable amount of infrastructure.

      Of course this goes off the rails, frequently, and we end up building a bunch of nice highways that are underutilized. I don’t want to say “highway to nowhere” but there are highways to nowhere…

      1. Mark Stewart

        State control is why SC has the highest ratio of paved roads to people in the country. If the locals don’t want to pay for the smaller roads in the communities in which they live, let them drive those roads in a decaying condition.

        Small roads are not the same thing as education. Education gives people outside opportunities; rural roads and rural hospitals keep people from making sensible residency decisions.

        1. Juan Caruso

          Speaking of ratios of people, Leisure and Hospitality) was once called the greatest industry in SC. Perhaps when you and Brad first moved here, Tourism was still cited as number one.

          .SC maintains the 4th largest road system in the country (SCDOT, Mar 2014).

          However, Government is now the largest industry in SC by percentage of employment (

  3. Juan Caruso

    Essentially, Sheheen has co-opted Haley’s (TBA) taxless plan. Big deal.

    Brad, I read the content you linked for Sheheen. When I got to “Ethical Leadership
    Restoring Trust to the Governor’s Office” I had to laugh at candidate Sheheen’s buck passing and pretense of focus rather than self interest. How about ethical leadership for SC Government as a WHOLE?

    A quote from 2010 puts reality in a clearer perspective:

    ” Well-intended legislation that aims to reform South Carolina’s anti-competitive legal climate gets watered down in the State Senate, usually thanks to a handful of wealthy trail lawyer-legislators who reap hundreds of thousands of dollars each year based on the failed status quo.” – … Lawyer-Legislators Water Down SC Tort Reform Bill, May 4, 2010, It happens every year, – FITSNews:

    I guess Sen Sheheen has not been very influential in his quest for ethics reform. Conflicts of financial interest must be at the apex of real ethics reform, in my opinion.


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