Haley’s ‘solution’ for roads: Rob the general fund

On my way home last night, listening on the radio, I heard some things from our governor that sounded pretty good to me, including her continuing initiatives to try to help out poor, rural schools. It was refreshing to hear a South Carolina Republican say, in such a prominent venue, “for the first time in our history, we acknowledged that it costs more to teach those children mired in poverty than those born into a secure economic situation.”

I was less enchanted a moment later, when she announced, “And all of this will be done without spending a single new tax dollar.” In other words, any gains we make in education will be accomplished by cutting back on something else that state government does.

And that brings us to her proposal on paying for roads, which is essentially to take the money out of the general fund, underfunding some other state function.

She says she can go for doing the right and logical thing, the obvious thing we should do without any conditions or contortions — raise the gas tax. But only if we cut the unrelated income tax. (And restructure the transportation agency, which of course is fine — I’ve advocated it for more than two decades — although not necessarily a thing we should hold our breath on while roads and bridges fall apart.)

The foolishness of this would be immediately apparent to everyone if it were a one-to-one swap. If the income tax was dedicated to paying for roads, then no one could miss the idiocy of raising revenues for roads with the left hand while lowering them with the right.

But the income tax doesn’t pay for roads; it goes into the general fund to pay for the rest of government. And among the hate-the-government crowd, the Haley proposal will make sense. How do they get there? By clinging to the belief that most government spending is waste anyway. And to the even more absurd belief that if you just cut off the money tap, efficiencies will magically appear, and only the “waste” will be cut.

I’ll say to this what I always say to such proposals: If you believe the general fund can do without those revenues, then tell us what you want to cut. Make the cuts first, and then reduce the no-longer-needed revenues.

But they won’t do that. That would be hard. They prefer the magical-thinking approach — just cut off the money, and everything will work out OK.

The honest thing would be to say, here is the thing that I think is less important than funding roads. But that would incur a political cost. The governor, and those who will support her idea, just want the warm-and-fuzzy credit that comes from cutting a tax, any tax.

This is the kind of proposal you make when you’re more interested in staying in the good graces of the Grover Norquists than you are in governing.

I think our governor has matured in office in a number of ways. She used to call the discomfort of mainstream Republicans over her sudden rise “a beautiful thing,” with a twinkle of malice in her eye. Now, she uses that phrase in a more positive way:

Whether I’m in California or Connecticut, Montreal or Minnesota, the story of South Carolina’s success is front and center. Everywhere we go there is excitement – and frankly, not a small amount of envy – over who we are and what we’ve been able to accomplish. It’s a beautiful thing….

But the deal she is proffering on roads is a dereliction of responsibility.

Again, if we want better roads, we should dig into our pockets (and into the pockets of visitors who use our roads) and pay for them. Magic beans are not a solution.

57 thoughts on “Haley’s ‘solution’ for roads: Rob the general fund

  1. Doug Ross

    “while roads and bridges fall apart.”

    This catch phrase has become 2015’s version of “it’s for the children”. Which roads and bridges are falling apart? If there are some that are truly falling apart, why aren’t they being prioritized to get fixed immediately? Certainly those “crumbling” roads and bridges would be more important than smoothing out a curve on Rimer Pond Rd. in Blythewood, right? That took nearly six months to complete.

    Haley HAS tried going the route of suggesting cuts. She does it every single year with the stroke of her veto pen. Then all the people start whining about their special program that can’t be cut. Cut arts funding to pay for roads? NEVER!!!! That can’t even be on the table.

    She’s doing exactly what you always suggest a good politician SHOULD do – compromise. Give up something you want for what someone else wants. What would YOU give up, Brad, to raise the gas tax (which will impact poor people more than anyone else)?

      1. Doug Ross

        I was speaking of Brad the legislator, not the person. What would you trade for an increase in the gas tax? Would you accept casino gambling AND the gas tax? Would you accept voting to keep the flag in front of the State House in return for a vote from another legislator for the gas tax? What would be an compromise position? Haley has done just that – trading X for Y. If X gets the roads fixed at the expense of other programs, is that not good enough?

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          No, it isn’t — especially when you’re not telling me which programs will get cut, so that I can make an intelligent decision.

          A compromise is, I want a 5 percent gas tax increase and you want 0 percent, and we settle on 2.5 percent.

          Basically, this is changing the subject. This specific fee for a specific purpose is a VERY different animal from a general tax.

          What you’re asking about isn’t compromise; it’s vote-swapping. “You want a gas tax hike and I want an income tax cut, so let’s vote for each others’ proposals.” And that can be perfectly acceptable, if the deal is good and you don’t have strong objections to the thing you’re being asked to vote for. This offer doesn’t meet those tests.

            1. Doug Ross

              And you know if I go for the 2.5%, you’ll come back next time and ask for 5% more and expect me to compromise on 2.5% again this giving you the 5% you wanted in the first place.

              Give me a casino in Myrtle Beach and Hilton Head and I’ll give you your 5%. Ok, I’ll compromise on just Myrtle Beach. Easy, right?

    1. Kathryn Fenner

      Route 602 has potholes the size of a stew pot all through Lexington county, as do many roads between Wagener and Aiken in Aiken County.
      Several bridges have been determined by structural engineers to be in dangerously poor condition.

      1. Doug Ross

        So why are they fixing curves in Blythewood? and why is it that when they fix potholes (I have some favorites around Columbia), they come back after the next freeze/thaw cycle? We’ve had one pothole in front of our development that has been “repaired” a half dozen times in ten years.

        Why would this be? I have an answer:

        a) Because if they fix the bad roads FIRST, then how can they whine about needing more money to waste?


        b) Because they are incompetent and lazy

        1. Kathryn Fenner

          That wasn’t your thesis. You postulated that roads and bridges aren’t crumbling. I countered that they are–perhaps not in Blythewood, but even in prosperous Aiken and Lexington counties.
          I don’t know why potholes keep coming back–perhaps because a patch is affordable but less permanent than rescraping and starting over again.

          1. Doug Ross

            Crumbling implies about to fail or impassable. Potholes are an annoyance. If a bridge is crumbling, someone should close it today. If it’s not crumbling, use the proper words to describe it instead of hyperbole. But “in need of maintenance” isn’t scary enough to raise taxes.

        2. bud

          Doug I can state unequivocally that merely fixing the worst roads first will NOT solve the problem. Why? It’s far, far cheaper to rehabilitate roads BEFORE they get to the worst status. But funding is lacking even for basic maintenance. Of course we need to prioritize. Duh. Who opposes prioritizing? Kind of like opposing waste reduction. What official have you ever heard opposing prioritization? Your comments amount to nothing more than a knee jerk truism.

            1. bud

              The DOT maintenance plan is to spend half on the very worst roads and half to rehabilitate roads before they reach the high cost stage. But there is way too little money to make even the tiniest dent in the problem.

          1. Silence

            They should survey all of the roads, put them into PAVER, and develop a prioritized maintenance plan focused on lowering our overall maintenance costs. As it is now, politicians will reprioritize their pet roads and drive up our overall cost.

  2. Kathryn Fenner

    I noted that as a Prius driver of above-average income, Haley’s swap favors me greatly. Cindi Scoppe is always saying we need to raise the gas tax and that we need to lower the income tax, right?

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      When did she say we need to lower the income tax. I missed that.

      If Cindi were going to recommend lowering a tax, it would likely be the sales tax. That’s the only leg of the three-legged stool that’s too long at the moment.

      It’s an unstable revenue source that is dwindling as more of the economy shifts to services and other things that aren’t taxed, and as people buy more items online. It’s also regressive as all get-out…

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        But she wouldn’t propose that in exchange for raising the gas tax. It’s apples and oranges. The swap would be to resume paying for schools more through residential property taxes, which we almost totally abandoned when we raised the sales tax too much.

        That would be an actual case of correcting an imbalance.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Yes, in the instances in which the increases are warranted. Which, if there’s a debate going on about a tax in South Carolina, it usually is. In South Carolina, which is so extremely anti-tax and has such a reflexively anti-tax legislature, if the tax increase is even coming up for a vote, it pretty much has to be desperately needed to get to that stage.

          And yet, contrary to what Silence said, there are plenty of taxes Cindi doesn’t like. Most of them are of the sales tax variety.

          Cindi is probably middle of the road on taxes. Of course, to people who are always, reflexively against ANY tax, people who are middle of the road look to be reflexively pro-tax.

          If Cindi were writing in Massachusetts, she’d oppose so many taxes that she’d look like Grover Norquist. But in South Carolina, with its underfunded fundamental services, few tax proposals ever arise that aren’t needed.

          1. Silence

            Left of the road, middle of the road, it all depends on where you are standing. And our issue isn’t that we are so undertaxed that we are underfunding fundamental services, as you state, Brad. It’s that there are so many of us who are very low earning and therefore not paying much in taxes, that it makes it difficult for the rest of us to fund everything, since there’s so few of us paying taxes. I think we also waste a lot of money on crap-ola and also write a lot of loopholes to exempt certain items/constituencies/groups from taxes. As a middle-class taxpayer (family earning between 100-200k/year, own a home, two cars, etc) I’d argue that our tax burden here is too high.

            1. Doug Ross

              Amen, brother. It’s not that I want to pay NO taxes, I just want to pay a reasonable amount to an entity that uses it in the most efficient way possible. 35-40% is way too much.

          2. Mark Stewart

            Massachusetts buys snowplows. And doesn’t subsidize for-profit professional sports enterprises.

            1. Kathryn Fenner

              And Massachusetts has a substantial safety net, including Romneycare, and vastly superior schools, and…

            2. Doug Ross

              And taxes out the wazoo… The 53 year old, 1500 square foot home I grew up in a small town in central Massachusetts had a tax bill of $4800 last year. My wife’s former home in NY has a current tax bill of $21,000 a year. It’s a dump by most modern standards.

              If you want that, go move there.

  3. Harry Harris

    This proposal is a tax shift from higher income individuals to the middle and lower incomes. I would bet that about 1/4 of the cuts in income taxes would go to the top 200-300 earners in the state. Meanwhile everyone would pony up to make up the lost revenue – and we still won’t have enough to fix the roads without localities using penny add-ons to fund projects.

    1. M.Prince

      Yep, yet another case of shifting costs downward – packaged as the Republican version of the government giveaway: the tax cut.

      1. Doug Ross

        You mean shifting the costs to everyone who uses the roads at the same rate? How horrible! If you use the roads, you should pay for the roads. Must everything be subsidized?

          1. Doug Ross

            Right. The comment above suggests that it’s a bad thing to shift costs downward. I disagree. That’s why I think home property taxes should be per dwelling and not based on perceived home value. A home is a home.

        1. M.Prince

          “From each according to his [or her] ability, to each according to his [or her] need.”

          Does that make me a redistributionist?

          In the words of Sarah Palin: You betcha!

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              In baseball, yes. It’s an intelligent game. In football, not so much.

              For one thing, you know, in baseball they don’t let you bring your own ball to use in the game…

        2. Kathryn Fenner

          Yeah, but the gas tax is imperfect as a user fee. Trucks do the most damage, and might fill up out of state. My Prius uses far less gas than any smaller car, short of an electric one, and does more damage than a light car.

          1. Mark Stewart

            Trucks do nearly all of the damage to road surfaces and bridge structures. We make railroads pay for nearly all of their infrastructure and yet we almost completely subsidize the trucking industry.

            Tractor trailers can routinely go up to 130,000 lbs – 50,000 lbs over the normal limit of 80,000 lbs. Any way you count it, these are massive increases over typical automobile weights – and the forces that impact the roads from trucks are exponentially greater. Way greater.

  4. Kathryn Fenner

    I wish Doug could realize and cherish that he is exceptional. This is a good thing. He has a set of gifts and skills, which he has apparently honed wisely, and probably got a few good breaks along the way as well. Few are in his position.

    1. Doug Ross

      Many, many people are in my position or better off. I’m not exceptional in any way (ask my wife or kids). I just pay attention and think about what could happen. Whatever “breaks” I have had along the way have been matched with obstacles.

      1. bud

        Doug I think you sell yourself short. You have been blessed with a skill set and a good family that gives you advantages that others haven’t. And you know, so have I. Everyone that works hard and perseveres does not necessarily end up well off.

        Take Marcus Lattimore. Can you think of anyone more naturally gifted as an athlete AND had the work ethic that he did. And on top of that he is a decent human being. Yet his dream of playing in the NFL ended with a freak injury that can only be attributable to an unlucky break. It is simply an obstacle that can’t be overcome.

        Marcus will be ok. His good character practically guarantees it. But he won’t be a a wealthy football star.

          1. Norm Ivey

            And that’s the key when it comes to luck–to take what the world hands you and find a way to turn it in your favor.

        1. Doug Ross

          Marcus Lattimore will receive 1.7 million dollars in insurance money. Why? Because he was unlucky? No, because he was both good and smart enough to take out the insurance policy. Again, it goes exactly to what I believe – there is no bad luck. It depends on what you do in response to events as well as how you prepare to deal with them that separates people.

          His life is just beginning. When he ends up a successful adult it won’t be because of luck. It will be because he earned it.

          1. Doug Ross

            Also, I’d like to see your analysis of the career of Demetrius Summers, a former USC running back who had all the same opportunities that Marcus Lattimore had and decided that smoking pot was a better option. Or Shaq Roland, the wide receiver and former Mr. Football for South Carolina who just left USC. These are guys who had everything handed to them throughout their life and didn’t work hard to keep it.

            Or how about Jadeveon Clowney whose first year in the NFL as the #1 pick already has people thinking he’s going to be a bust. You want to bet that twenty years from now Marcus Lattimore won’t be more successful overall than Clowney?

            1. Kathryn Fenner

              I cannot decide if you are being deliberately obtuse, Doug, or if it is a rhetorical posture: no one here is saying it’s all up to luck, and not at all to bad choices. Of course people make a lot of their “luck”–but I am sure we all have made bad choices that could have blown up our lives under some circumstances, but those circumstances did not occur. I was always a very cautious person–my mom recalls some of my first utterances to myself as “be careful” –and I think of all the stupid things even a prudent, scaredy kid like me did and came out fine.
              and had a lot of bad circumstances come about, I still had a substantial social safety net.
              I also had a hugely greater number of opportunities growing up white and middle class, even in small town SC, than so many others do, though not as many as someone growing up near a big northern city, say. I was born with a huge intellectual gift, and the temperament to make the best of it academically.

            2. Doug Ross

              I’m not being obtuse in the least. You are a product of the events in your life and the choices you made. Nothing more, nothing less. If you’re dealt four aces and fold, you’re a loser. If you’re dealt a pair of deuces and can bluff your way to win the pot, you’re a winner.

              Marcus Lattimore is a millionaire despite his bad luck. And the reason he is a millionaire is due to his work ethic and attitude. He isn’t a millionaire because he is black or in spite of being black. He’s the product of his efforts.

              There isn’t a better time in American history to be black than today.

  5. Silence

    bud- what is an acceptable percentage of one’s income to be paying in total taxes: state, local, federal, gasoline tax, sales tax, income tax, etcetera? Give me a minimum and maximum percentage for given income levels.
    Say a family of four making $50,000/year?
    Same family @ $100,000/year?
    Same family @ $200,000/year?
    Same family @ $1,000,000/year?
    What’s the lowest percentage they should pay, and what’s the highest? In your opinion? I’m just curious as to what you think is fair. Thanks in advance for your answer. Everyone else can weigh in as well.

    1. Doug Ross

      I’ll weigh in.

      Family of four making $50K: 20% $100K: 20% $200K: 25% $1,000,000: 35%

      Without revealing my income, I can safely say my combined tax burden is at least 35% and probably closer to 40%. And I’m not anywhere close to $1 million a year. That’s too much for what government provides.

      1. Doug Ross

        Bu then I want an income tax based on income, not on deductions. Same tax rate regardless of dependents, mortgages, marital status. A flat rate with three levels.

    2. Silence

      I’ll weigh in as well. I figure that I end up paying around 29% in state & federal income taxes, including medicare and SS. If you add my property taxes (personal & real) and sales taxes back in, I’m probably closer to about 35%. Which I think is too high. I think a flat 20% total ought to be enough to run all levels of government.

      We don’t have revenue problem, we have a spending problem.

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