At long last, the House stands up to the governor on roads

Finally, the House has done what it always had to do if it were to act rationally on financing road construction — raise the tax designed for that purpose, which had been kept ridiculously low:

The South Carolina House passed a bill Wednesday to pay to repair the state’s crumbling roads by increasing the state’s gas tax by 10 cents a gallon.

The proposal, which would raise roughly $427 million a year, passed 87-20, a large enough margin in the GOP-dominated House to survive a veto threat by Republican Gov. Nikki Haley.

State Rep. Gary Simrill, R-York, said the “strong vote” shows House members are serious about fixing S.C. roads….

Here’s hoping House members continue to stand up against the governor’s nonsensical stance, and that the Senate acts reasonably as well.

So far, the governor has reacted in a predictable manner, demagoguing on Facebook rather than engaging lawmakers.

63 thoughts on “At long last, the House stands up to the governor on roads

  1. Doug Ross

    How will we measure that the roads have been “uncrumbled”? How much time do they have?

    This is just like giving a bunch of alcoholics a gift card to the liquor store. There has been no demonstration of competence or stewardship with the millions of dollars they already receive. How will more money improve that? If there truly WERE crumbling roads, one would expect the DOT would put all their efforts into fixing them first.

    1. Mark Stewart


      Do you only drive I-77 to Charlotte? Have you been on I-95 in the last 10 years? How about through Malfunction Junction any weekday? SC has got problems with roadways large and small.

      SC roads are bridges are in some respects in pretty good shape. But it’s hard to fathom just how many bridges and miles of roads there are in the state to maintain. There will always be problems all over. Look at the Town of Lexington. It’s a disaster area and poster child of the effects of poor strategic vision and implementation. The problem with the state is that when it spends big money on new projects it sometimes is reacting more to the political than the demographic landscape.

      1. Doug Ross

        Show me the list of crumbling roads and bridges… any list. Then tell me what the current priority is to fix any of them and where current tax dollars are being spent.

        It took them six months to straighten out a curve near our house. It wasn’t crumbling… a couple cars had gone off the road in the past few years when exceeding the speed limit or after rain, no fatalities. Why was that road “fixed” over crumbling roads?

        I drive 77, 26, 20, 95 all the time. 95 is the only one that needs fixing but it has needed fixing for ten years or more. Why hasn’t any money been put into that during that time?

        Simple answer: because there is ZERO incentive for the highway department to do a great job.. or even a good job. There is no accountability, no oversight, and extensive political involvement in the decision making process.

        1. Barry

          I 26 needs fixing into and out of columbia. It needs a 3rd lane to and from around the Chapin’s exit. The congestion in this area is unreal at times and is only getting worse.

          malfunction junction is 10 years past needing major, major repairs, and additional on and off ramps at I20 and I 26.

          I- 95 in the Walterboro area is in pitiful condition. There needs to be a 3rd lane added to I95 from Walterboro to Hook up to the 3 lanes in Georgia at Savannah.

          1. Kathryn Fenner

            10 years past at Malfunction Junction? I’m not sure it ever was okay. I truly wonder what genius designed that!

        2. bud

          Doug your simple answer is absolutely ridiculous. Why would the DOT have ZERO incentive to do a great job? That makes no sense. Every situation can’t be boiled down to simple laissez faire incentive. People at DOT are motivated by a genuine sense of pride it what they do. Now I know that kind of thinking is foreign to someone who worships Ayn Rand – serial killer groupie, but people really do take pride in what they do and don’t need huge paychecks to feel an obligation to do good work and serve the public in a meaningful way.

          I know that once a person gets this libertarian cult religion in their head it’s hard to make a rational argument that they can understand. It’s much akin to the Moonies or the Jim Jones folks. But to suggest people can only be motivated by money or self-interest is not something that I will ever subscribe to again after escaping the grips of the libertarian mantra.

          1. Barry

            I had a friend that worked at DOT about 10 years ago. He was an engineer and was from a very prestigious out of state engineering school.

            He worked for our DOT for less than 2 years. He was so disappointed- not at DOT but that SC was not serious about our roads and bridges. He was and is a top notch guy.

            Another state sought him out and he moved his family and now works at the DOT of another state.

          2. Doug Ross

            Ok, bud, I’ll call your bluff. Tell me what the greatest accomplishments of the DOT have been in the past five years. Where do I go to see projects that were completed on time, on (or under) budget?

            Is Janet Oakley good at her job? Does she deserve a raise over her $156K salary? Is she the right person to make sure the millions in extra tax revenue will be spent wisely?

            1. Doug Ross

              A quick perusal of the DOT website’s current projects list is good reading.

              Six projects in Lexington County currently totaling about $60 million dollars. Four in Richland County totaling 70 million, including $25 million to build a bridge From S-114 (Lucius Road) To S-213 (Riverhill Road) – a project that began construction in 2010 and says will be completed in “Spring 2015”. Is it done? Did it come in on time and under budget?

              Then you have Allendale which only has $360K going toward a “Landscaping Project”. No potholes in Allendale, I suppose. Nothing in Bamberg County. All roads are good there, I guess, or else the citizens there don’t pay any taxes. That’s gotta be the reason, right?

      2. Kathryn Fenner

        Most of the streets in Columbia are state-maintained. I can get the tiny stretch of Devine (1700 block) repaired immediately b/c it’s city, but the 600 block of Henderson looks like it was bombed–literally. The 600 block of Henderson only goes from Greene to Blossom. Why is it state-maintained?
        There is an enormous pothole on Pickens just south of Wheat–it is large enough to swallow a tire, but is still avoidable because it is centered. I could go on….

    2. bud

      The DOT is overwhelmed with crumbling roads. No possibility of addressing all the problems. Like any large entity, including those in the private sector, the DOT could always do better with it’s resources. But really Doug this constant nattering over something so obvious is a bit ridiculous. Remember, the last increase in the gas tax was in 1987. Given the rate of inflation the gas tax only brings in about 1/3 of the revenue that it would based on 80 cent/gallon gas.

      1. Doug Ross

        Bud..tell me why a half mile stretch of road in Blythewood was more important than any crumbling road. Who made that decision and why?

        1. bud

          Don’t know the details of the Blythwood road but there is at least 2 plausible explanations. (1) There could be safety issues. Sometimes a road will be reworked as a part of ongoing safety concerns in the area even if it’s not an obvious maintenance issue. Preventing serious crashes is a top priority.

          (2) It was much cheaper to fix the road before it crumbled. It really does make economic sense to fix roads BEFORE they get too far gone. It may not look like a road needs repair but it could make sense as part of a long run strategy to perform maintenance work before it becomes apparent to a layman.

          1. Barry

            You are correct. Some roads- even minor issues will be corrected first. That’s not unique or surprising.

            Is a school nearby?

            Is a large neighborhood near the area?

            Have their been serious accidents at that location?

            There are quote a few reasons.

            1. Doug Ross

              The road was closed for six months. There had not been any fatalities in the twelve years we’ve lived here.

              Sorry, but if there is a crumbling road, it should be fixed first. You don’t stain your deck when there’s a hole in the roof.

            2. Doug Ross

              The curve that was straightened is two miles from a school. The largest neighborhood nearby is ours which has about 200 homes. There are mostly woods between the curve and the school. Just a couple homes on the road.

            3. Doug Ross

              In the curve itself is a small church that only sees about 100 cars on Sunday.

              How many potholes could have been filed fur the same cost?

            4. Barry

              I am not disagreeing with you but if a teen drives off that curve and gets killed, people,will be wondering why the old dangerous curve was never fixed.

          1. Doug Ross

            No, let’s understand why a short stretch of road that wasn’t a problem required fixing when there are supposed crumbling roads throughout the state. Answer that question and you’ll understand why giving more money to an inept and politically driven agency shouldn’t get another dime.

            1. Kathryn Fenner

              I have no idea the reason why that stretch was done the way it was done. Suggestions have been made. How one stretch was done does not negate that there are direly damaged stretches that do need fixing. Fixing one short stretch is a drop in the bucket compared to long stretches, including unsafe bridges, that need work.

            2. bud

              Ok Doug why do you think that section of a perfectly safe and smooth road was re-worked? Obviously you believe there is some nefarious process at work. Who are the perpetrators? What did they have to gain? Unless you can answer THOSE questions then you’re just making ad-hominem attacks against people based on your preconceived worldview. That kind of argument has zero persuasive value.

            3. Doug Ross


              I don’t have access to the DOT information that you have. All I know is that SOMEONE made a decision to straighten a road and it took six months to do so, causing cars to be detoured five miles out of the way. SOMEONE decided that little stretch was more important than other roads. Gee, do you think if you fixed the worst roads first that might impact the ability to whine about the bad roads to get more money?

            4. Doug Ross

              And, Kathryn, why is it a bad idea to get more information about the decision making process before handing millions of dollars over to the same entity? Every project should be discussed in public forum, every project plan should be made available to the public, and every dollar spent should be tracked in public databases.

              THEN we can determine if the DOT deserves more money. I know you prefer to ignore details when it comes to spending tax dollars but some of us would like to see value for the expenditure.

            5. Kathryn Fenner

              Doug, because it’s never enough information for you. I’ve played that game before.

            6. Barry

              If a school was within a few miles, that is likely the reason. Big curves and schools are not always something road folks at say DOT want to see.

  2. Brad Warthen Post author

    Not that it’s necessarily a bad thing that the governor is taking to social media rather than engaging lawmakers. If she acted the way one is supposed to act in a representative democracy and participated in the deliberative process, she MIGHT change some lawmakers’ minds. That would not be good.

    1. Barry

      She is not good at negotiating with anyone. She is a “my way or hit the door” type personality.

      Eventually people ignore you when that is your approach.

      1. Kathryn Fenner

        I wonder if that is her personality or what she has simply determined resonates with her voters? SC certainly has a long history of belligerent, obstinate, ornery action and posturing. I think it’s baked into the culture.

      2. Brad Warthen Post author

        She reminds me of certain figures in ancient Rome who stirred up the plebeians to outmaneuver the Senate.

        Except she doesn’t even offer bread and circuses…

        1. Kathryn Fenner

          Well, to paraphrase another erstwhile state leader, like my grandmama said, if you give them bread and circuses, they’ll just breed more.

          1. Bryan Caskey

            When I read this comment, I keep interpreting it as your grandmama being the erstwhile state leader.

            1. Kathryn Braun Fenner

              Okay, I was in a hurry and left off the implied quotation marks, which should open after “leader,” and close at the end.

  3. Brad Warthen Post author

    Here’s a release the speaker put out following the vote yesterday:

    Speaker Lucas: House Paves the Way for Road Repair

    Passes bill to fund and reform infrastructure

    (Columbia, SC) – House Speaker Jay Lucas (District 65-Darlington) released the following statement after the House passed H. 3579. This roads plan was drafted after seven months of careful study by an ad hoc committee chaired by Representative Gary Simrill (District 46-York) and has been thoroughly vetted through the legislative process.

    “One of the single greatest hurdles threatening job creation and economic growth in South Carolina is the deteriorating condition of our infrastructure. Since the House began prioritizing this issue, I have maintained that finding a real solution to this problem will require tough decision-making.  This debate has been ongoing for months and every idea presented has been given considerable attention.

    “Waiting to address this issue increases repair costs, discourages investment, and jeopardizes the safety of South Carolina drivers. Today, a vast majority of House membership courageously took the next necessary step to put our state on a path towards road repair.  We accomplished our goal of producing a plan that generates revenue without passing a burden onto South Carolina taxpayers.

    “The economic value at stake is far greater than the price of politics. As our roads plan advances through the legislative process, I am confident the House will continue to work with Governor Nikki Haley and Senate leadership to ensure we meet our state’s needs and repair our crumbling road and bridge system.”

  4. Harry Harris

    The sponsors tout this as a ten cent per gallon increase. That’s a typical disguise. It’s about 10 cents at today’s prices, but at last year’s prices about 17 cents. Since the petroleum industry has started cutting back production to raise prices and the usual ignorant consumer has started buying larger cars and stupid big trucks again recently, it will go on back over $3 per gallon. I’d like to see details on the bracket adjustments designed to save income tax for the “average taxpayer.” It’s probably much better than Gov Haley’s way of cutting top rates to benefit mostly the highest income folks in the state. A straightforward per gallon tax without income tax messing around would just be too honest for the legislature we’ve given ourselves.

    1. Mark Stewart

      The thing about roads is that the big cost items are often all about transportation costs, fuel usage and using oil-related products to create the roadways themselves. It actually makes a great deal of sense to tie the gas tax to the pump price so that there is more money available when the projects cost more to complete.

      For SC, its strangely logical.

      1. Harry Harris

        Aye, it does make some sense, but don’t call it a 10 center when it’s a 5 percenter designed to be hidden in the wholesale price. It’s being proposed for initiation when the price is the lowest it may ever be and sold by a deceptive low-ball, bottom-line number. It will also add costs for those who work full time but still don’t make enough to pay state income taxes. The rest of us get some tax relief at the expense of other state programs.

  5. Bart

    Simply cannot resist to post again after reading some of the comments on Haley’s FaceBook page. Over taxed in SC, really? I am conservative on many social and financial issues but when it comes to the lifeline that feeds this state from interstate, main, secondary, and rural roads, if wanting good roads is a violation of conservative principles, then I am not a conservative. But then again, I am not a member of either political party and refuse to align myself with either one.

    I cannot speak for Doug or anyone else but I can speak for myself and what I have encountered over the past several years travelling the roads of South Carolina vs. road systems in other states. Yes, other states have their problems but when my teeth literally rattle trying to transverse so many of the roads in this state, it is inexcuseable for the Governor, Senate, House, and DOT to allow them to deteriorate to the point they are now.

    And yes Doug, the “good ol boy” network of special interests on both sides of the aisle still exists in SC. Heck, when they end the day’s session, you think Democrats go to one watering hole and Republicans go to another? No, they are no different than the politicos in DC. They sit together and “break bread” at the same table.

    South Carolina has so many great and positive things to offer but driving over crappy roads to get to them is not a desirable way to find them.

    1. Barry

      Nikki’s facebook page comments are scary. There are actually people in SC that honestly believe taxes in SC are right near the highest in the country.

      These people obviously never leave South Caolina.

      1. Kathryn Fenner

        A Facebook friend who is a dog person is also blue-collar conservative, and posts all sorts of nutty-to-me memes and “photos”, etc. I don’t read the comments underneath or I might miss out on cute dog pics, but…No, there is no state that is going to pay $15K (or any $) for the wedding for a person on assistance. No, we don’t have to choose between veterans and illegal immigrants. Nobody is coming for your guns or your Bible, and Shari’a law is not a “thing” outside of Arab countries, and no threat here in SC…

  6. Tim O'Keefe

    If it hasn’t been done yet, I think there should be a study done comparing the costs of car repairs due to rapidly decaying roads and the cost to repair the roads. I’m guessing taxpayers would be saving money by supporting the gas tax increase and not have to deal with the danger and hassle of having accidents.

    1. Kathryn Fenner

      I have seen billboards with some data on them. I imagine it’s been done–AAA? Not publicized enough, though!

      1. Doug Ross

        There were “studies” done when the penny tax for roads was being pushed. The numbers were ridiculously high as were the estimated jobs created by the tax. Anyone can produce numbers to push an agenda.

    1. Kathryn Braun Fenner

      I don’t think our drivers even rate, compared to Massholes and others in the NE, or even Hotlanna.

      1. Bob's Your Uncle

        Bob begs to differ — after circumnavigating your fair capital city just this past year and just about being forced off the road by inattentive drivers. Honking the horn had no effect. Maybe it takes a shot across the bow.

        1. Kathryn Fenner

          Yeah, Bob, but that doesn’t even rate against Massholes whose idea of the right of way is any unoccupied pavement. On Route 3 from Boston to Cape Cod, they have to have signs reminding folks not to travel in the breakdown lanes.

          1. Mark Stewart

            Because as weird as this sounds, driving in the breakdown lane on I-95 around Boston is okay at rush hours. I still haven’t figured out what happens if someone does in fact breakdown and pull over; because sometimes it is possible to be going 50-70 mph in the breakdown lane.

            Maybe this is why many people do not avail themselves of the less impeded breakdown lane.

        1. Kathryn Fenner

          Well, my last surviving grandmother died in 1990, so she’s probably ahead of many of our legislators in outlook. My cool grandmother, by all reports, died in 1961, Frieda Habicht, (Peace Hawk, in German, btws), when I was 16 months old, so I don’t remember her. She would have been awesome as a politician. First off, although she got married before she was 18, about 1908, she managed to work a deal out with my Catholic grandfather that the boys would be raised Catholic but the girls, Lutheran, as she was. Then, when my dad was born 16 years after his next oldest sib, he was raised Lutheran, b/c his sister took him to church.
          My grandfather was only nominally Catholic anyway, and reportedly had not darkened the door of a Catholic church for decades before he died, but gramma Braun managed to get him a Catholic burial b/c she was a frequenter of all the Buffalo Catholic churches’ (playing) card party fundraisers. She was pals with all the priests in the city!
          She’d have gotten these roads all paved, Medicaid expanded, and schools adequately funded in short order, cutting deals with all the other politicians. I don’t know that she would have had any problem with lotteries, video poker or the like, though…..

      2. Norm Ivey

        Miami is the only place I’ve driven where I felt there were more bad drivers than good. Frightening.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Trying driving, or riding as a passenger, in Thailand.

          I’m not saying drivers are BAD in Thailand. On the contrary, they have to be really GOOD to survive, since it’s pretty much every driver for himself. There probably ARE rules, but everyone drives as though there are none. Cab drivers routinely react with surprising cool, and impressive evasive moves, to the homicidal maneuvers of the motorists around them.

          As a passenger sitting up front with the cabbie (my wife and daughter in the back) in what would normally be the driver’s seat, I basically took a Zen approach, and was not afraid. There was nothing I could do, the cabbies seemed to be on top of the situation (they didn’t show even mild irritation at things that would give an American driver a conniption), so why worry?

          I think I was getting a foretaste of what it will be like, several decades from now, when we all have driverless cars that are programmed to drive closer to other cars than a human can safely do, and to make maneuvers that are beyond human reflexes. You just sit back and trust the algorithm…

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            This was particularly dramatic in Bangkok, with multiple lanes, high speeds and thousands of drivers around you weaving in and out of them without warning.

            But the only time I was actually FRIGHTENED was when we were riding on a two-lane country road in a van we had hired for the day, and the driver kept passing people with oncoming cars terrifyingly close to a head-on collision. After one particularly hair-raising instance, my daughter asked me whether she should ask the driver not to do that any more. I was undecided. I hesitated to distract him, or to show any sort of lack of confidence in his abilities, lest it break the spell that enabled him to keep hauling us back into the envelope at the last second…

            1. Kathryn Fenner

              Storrow Drive, along the Charles River in Boston. They repaint the lines every spring (which is quite late up there) and they are pretty much erased by the fourth of July.

              I drive during class change more often that I’d like — they changed the class times a couple years back, and frankly, the students are mostly very good, considerate drivers. I’d say 99%. The pedestrians, not so much….

  7. Kathryn Fenner

    I think you have to define “bad driver.” To some, it’s anyone not going at least five mph over the speed limit. To others, it anyone who changes lanes, ever, even with turn signals. I see a lot more “sleepy” drivers, mostly older, but not always, both white and black, than aggressive ones here. That works for me. I am patient, and allow plenty of time to get where I need to be. Folks are poor, often, and their cars aren’t always in great condition.

    Up North, there are way too many aggressive drivers, who weave in and out, drive way over the speed limit, tailgate, cut you off and steal your cushion between you and the vehicle in front of you –I try to leave enough room to avert a chain reaction collision.

    We even saw someone reading the newspaper, a wide open broadsheet, cruising up the Maine Turnpike, going 80 mph. Lots of traffic. Ayup.

    1. Barry

      Agree, as someone that typically follows the speed limit or drives no more than 5-6mph over on the interstate, a lot of folks think you are a bad driver if you aren’t going 82 on the interstate.

      I stay in the right lane most of the time, but when I am passing someone, it does take 10-12 seconds sometimes.

  8. Mark Stewart

    I have never seen more drunk drivers than I have in SC. So right there I’m ready to declare a winner.

    I also don’t care for driving in SC in a spring downpour as far too many people are driving around on bald tires. That’s scarier than snow as they stay out on the roadside its “just” rain.

  9. Phillip

    Re Columbia bad drivers, I’d like to see the cops issue some big-time tickets to drivers who block the box.

  10. Doug Ross

    Shocking.. politicians can’t agree on how to divvy up $325 million dollars to fund their favorites projects. Now is we have “crumbling” roads, why aren’t they highest on the list for the $325 million? Here’s where they want to spend other people’s money in Columbia:

    ▪ $145.3 million for railroad overpasses and beautification of Assembly Street between Elmwood Avenue and Rosewood Drive

    ▪ $112.4 million for a new entrance to Columbia Metropolitan Airport off I-26

    ▪ $46.3 million for beautification of Huger Street from I-126 to the Granby neighborhood

    ▪ $36.4 million to extend and beautify Greene Street to Huger Street to assist in the University of South Carolina’s expansion toward the Congaree River

    ▪ $17.6 million for extending Williams Street toward the river for USC expansion and new development

    It is such a joke – $46 million for beautification of Huger Street? 17 million for USC and new development? Gee, I wonder which big developers greased the skids to make THAT happen? Or is Huger Street really crumbling? All of you “our roads are crumbling!!!” suckers are who P.T. Barnum was talking about. You can’t even be bothered to ask how millions of dollars are being spent.

    But it’s not your money, so who gives flying f…?

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