What’s wrong with Sheheen’s road plan, in no uncertain terms

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.

23 thoughts on “What’s wrong with Sheheen’s road plan, in no uncertain terms

  1. Doug Ross

    Will be interesting to see if The State will endorse Sheheen again… what has he done to deserve it? What did he learn from his last attempt to become a different candidate? All of his “plans” are just smoke and mirrors.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        No, not Anybody But Haley.

        Looking at it from the outside, if you read what the paper has written — what Cindi has written mainly, since it’s her beat (Warren handles metro issues) — Vincent Sheheen would be much preferred to Haley, for oft-enumerated reasons.

        I have to say this for Nikki — she’s a stronger candidate than she was four years ago, which I would not have thought possible. (I thought once she had a record, it would sink her like a stone. But while there’s plenty to drag her down, it hasn’t been as bad as I feared.) But there was such a big gap between her and Vincent — who I see as one of the best people in the State House — that she has a way to go to close it.

        It’s not IMPOSSIBLE for the paper to endorse Haley. I could sketch out a scenario in which that would happen. But the groundwork hasn’t been laid for it up until now. Add up what’s been said up until now, and the balance is still significantly toward Sheheen. NOT because it’s Anybody But Haley, but because in the aggregate, the board thinks more of him than it does of her…

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Part of Sheheen’s appeal is contained in this post from awhile back. It includes a video clip in which Vincent displays an unusually comprehensive understanding of the real problems with state government. As I said then, “You may wonder why I think it remarkable that a state senator would exhibit such understanding of the system. Well… that’s just rarer than you may think.”

          It’s VERY unusual to find anyone in elective office who understands the deep, systemic problems, how they developed, and what ought to be done about them.

          Bottom line, he’s a guy who GETS IT. And that’s very appealing to editorial types…

          1. Doug Ross

            What you think makes Sheheen a good candidate does not reflect the view of the uniformed electorate. The majority of those who will vote for Sheheen wouldn’t be able to pick him out of a lineup.

  2. Juan Caruso

    As I have stated here earlier, Sheheen’s road fix plan is likely an early release of Haley’s plan with less of the surplus allocated.

    I do not criticize Sheheen for wanting to allocate surplus revenues to a major priority. The concept is irreproachably sound except to spendthrifts hoping to spend the surplus elsewhere AND raise taxes to compensate for their undisciplined habits of throwing other people’s money around.

    Let’s not forget that Circuit Judge Carmen Mullen can issue her ruling in the 1944 Stinney case just in time to assure supernumerary Democratich lever pullers turnout in November. Why has Judge Mullen taken this long. Let me guess, Bryan Caskey, because her case load is too large, of course.

  3. Bart

    As much as I dislike imposing additional tax burdens on the state, if a tax was imposed on gas and IF the revenue earned would actually go toward upgrading the third world conditions of so many of our roads and bridges, I would support it. However, and there is always a however, it should be a requirement for the state highway department and the legislators to go over the budget with a fine tooth comb and remove anything that is not necessary and streamlining the department before adding another tax increase to gas.

  4. Kathryn Braun Fenner

    The Free Times is saying the Dems are backing the wrong guy. Should be James Smith. Ya think?

    1. Brad Warthen

      I just went and read that. It’s not Free Times saying it; it’s Kevin Fisher.

      Kevin’s right to praise James for trying to get something going on the election commission. But his criticism of Sheheen is off base. His failing to do what same-sex marriage advocates want him to do doesn’t show a lack of courage. He happens to disagree with them.

      If Kevin believes he agrees with them but won’t say so, that’s one thing. But he has said he doesn’t agree. So how is that a lack of courage?

      1. Doug Ross

        What are Sheheen’s Democratic credentials? Pro choice? Pro gay marriage? Anti gun?

        Oh, I guess he’s pro environment… What else?

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          He’s a Democrat who would have been recognized as such by FDR, Truman, Kennedy and LBJ. He’s a Democrat the way his father and uncle were and are.

          Just because other people have chosen in recent years to change the definition of Democrat doesn’t make him less of one.

          I say that as one who doesn’t think it’s a good thing to BE a Democrat, or a Republican. But I can respect a guy who is true to his antecedents, when his antecedents are honorable. As Tevye sang: “Tradition!”

          1. Doug Ross

            A real Democrat might have a better chance of winning this time. Sheheen 2.0 is the same as Sheheen 1.0 but Haley 2.0 is a major upgrade. How many votes do you think she’s lost in 4 years compared to the ones she likely has gained?

            She’s been a perfect example of why I believe in term limits — all she needed was a little on the job training to tighten up her message and improve her skills. It doesn’t take years of training to do the job.

            And I’m not saying she’s been great – the Governor’s job doesn’t have enough power to be great. But she has been relatively effective and hasn’t failed like many had hoped she would.

          2. Silence

            So basically he’s an anachronism? Perhaps he’s a good-old-1950’s style Southern Democrat. I think we’d all want to be careful before delving too deep into Democrat “tradition” here. #Dixiecrat #JimCrow #SolidSouth #YellowDog

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      An interesting thing about this topic…

      While on vacation, I put in a phone call to the Sheheen campaign, seeking his thoughts on the governor’s petty remarks regarding the refugee children. I never heard back (admittedly, I was doing this on a Saturday, and may have left my messages in the wrong place).

      I would STILL like a comment on that. And I felt a bit put out that the SC press corps hounded him for days about THIS topic, when there was no news to be had. He had said what he thought on this subject. And I find it surprising that anyone — the press, or readers — would expect him to have a different answer this time. I suppose it’s become so common for Democrats to change their minds on this — or to SAY they’ve changed their minds on this — that it seems to many a reasonable expectation. For my part, I expect people to hold the same opinion they did before unless they tell me otherwise…

      Maybe I’ll try again to get comment on the Central American children issue. That at least would be NEWS, since he hasn’t addressed it before.

      1. Doug Ross

        It’s another issue he has to avoid (like gay marriage) to try and hang onto Republican votes. If he says anything, it will be through a mouthpiece and be sufficiently obtuse as to not be clear what he thinks.

        He’s trying to win an election, not be open and honest. I can picture the campaign meetings where consultants tell him what he can and cannot say in order to appease crossover Republicans.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Yeah, I hate to think that’s why I didn’t hear back, but the possibility did occur to me. I would have been more persistent, but hey, I was on vacation. And I thought two or three attempted calls from the coffee shop of a Barnes & Noble was above and beyond.

          I tried Vincent’s cell, which he doesn’t answer (I can’t remember the last time he answered it). Then I tried Phil Bailey, who works for Senate Dems and can usually put me in touch. He suggested I call Kristin Sosanie, whom I tried a couple of times. Then I moved on…

          I only went to that much trouble, on a Saturday on vacation, because I thought it was really worth knowing whether he took a different position from the governor’s, and no one in the MSM seemed to be asking him about it…

  5. Kathryn Braun Fenner

    James has charisma, and political smarts. Maybe that’s why he won’t fall on his sword and run for governor.

  6. Silence

    Wonder how the local media and Sheheen will find a way to put a negative spin on Haley’s signing of the Solar Power bill.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Silence, I’m going to ignore your unwarranted insult to local media — after all, you can just go on the web and see how they have covered it, and observe the lack of what you call “negative spin” — and say what Democrats will say: They’ll contrast this with her other positions that they regard as being incompatible with caring about the environment.

      In his story today — his perfectly factual, well-balanced story — Sammy noted that we have a strange bedfellows situation here, with the signing attended by representatives of groups that are endorsing Sheheen. Those folks will applaud this, but have little hesitation to criticize the governor in other areas.


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