Today, Cindi Scoppe did what I should have done — tear apart Vincent Sheheen’s roads plan and show why, if anything, it’s worse than Nikki Haley’s complete refusal to tell us what her plan is.
For my part, I more or less just looked at it when it came out and saw it didn’t have a gas tax increase in it, and walked away dissatisfied. Cindi, who still gets paid to spend time doing this sort of thing (my only defense), did far more:
Technically, Sen. Sheheen has a plan. And Gov. Haley says she has a new plan, although she won’t reveal it until after the election. Unless she’s playing with semantics, her no-new-tax pledge leaves her no place to go besides where Sen. Sheheen has gone.
That’s because once you decide to take on the state’s $29 billion infrastructure backlog, you have only two options: Raise taxes or starve government.
I suspect that if the Republican-controlled House and the Republican-controlled Senate were to send a bill to a Gov. Sheheen to raise the gas tax, he would treat it the same way Gov. Carroll Campbell treated the Legislature’s last gas-tax increase, a quarter century ago: Sign it into law. Of course, we have no idea whether the Legislature would do such a thing, because most lawmakers who support a gas-tax increase say there’s no reason to even try it as long as we have a governor who is promising a veto.
But candidate Sheheen isn’t proposing to raise the gas tax. He proposes instead to divert 5 percent of the state’s general fund and surplus revenue to the Transportation Department, and rely on unspecified new revenue, to reduce the backlog by about a third to a half.
He says he wouldn’t have to cut existing programs to do this because he would rely on the revenue growth that occurs every year as a result of inflation and population increases.
That’s certainly not a new approach. To anything….
She then goes on to explain how it’s the same old approach and a bad one. Devoting new growth in revenues to roads means making the recession-caused cuts of the last few years permanent, and deeper, as inflation and population growth take more and more out of the general fund. And despite what the Grover Norquist acolytes will tell you, those cuts have not served our state well.
Here’s the ending:
If our Legislature decided next year to divert all the revenue growth to infrastructure, it wouldn’t be able to hire those 200 caseworkers that the Department of Social Services says it needs — and Gov. Haley says she supports — to get staffing up to pre-recession levels, and maybe keep a few kids from being killed by their parents.
And just as with the individual, it’s not merely a case of being unable to do anything new. Diverting all the revenue growth to roads and bridges means there’s no money to cover inflation — much less population growth.
We wouldn’t just be unable to hire those additional case workers; we’d have to further reduce the number we have, even as the number of families who need DSS supervision grows. We wouldn’t just be unable to expand 4K and hire reading specialists; we’d have to lay off teachers, even as the number of students increases.
No, you don’t necessarily have to cut government programs if you divert all the new revenue — for one year. But by year two, you have to start making some cuts. By year 20, well, you probably don’t want to think about how big those cuts would be. And you’d still have half the job left undone.