The Senate, as is its wont, resists reforming DOT

While I think it’s great the Senate is trying to come up with even more money to fix our roads, I have to agree with Speaker Lucas on this one:

State senators passed their own version of a plan Tuesday to raise money to repair the state’s crumbling roads, setting up a crash with their counterparts in the S.C. House.

The collision came as the Senate Finance Committee voted 14-8 to replace a House road-repair plan with a Senate proposal. The Senate plan would raise more money for roads — roughly $800 million a year versus $427 million — but also increase the gas tax more — by 12 cents a gallon versus 10 cents….

House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, said he was “extremely disappointed” the Senate committee did not debate the various parts of the House bill, instead substituting its own proposal.

Lucas called the House’s 87-20 passage of its own roads plan two weeks ago a “courageous vote,” adding senators focused only on “dollar signs,” not the other reforms in the House plan.

State Rep. Gary Simrill, the York Republican who sponsored the House bill, said the resounding House vote — enough to withstand a promised Haley veto — was because that proposal also included reforming the State Infrastructure Bank and S.C. Department of Transportation.

“The Senate bill … has nothing for reform. It has nothing for right-sizing DOT,” Simrill said. “It is just a funding (proposal).”…

Funding the roads without fixing DOT is almost as bad as reforming DOT without funding the roads — as Cindi pointed out today.

We need to do both, and we’ve needed to do both for a long, long time. It’s time lawmakers move away from the past two decades of failing to do either.

27 thoughts on “The Senate, as is its wont, resists reforming DOT

  1. Doug Ross

    Same as it ever was… Maybe when The State starts calling out Hugh Leatherman, things might change.

    Pork goes well with a large glass of corruption.

      1. Doug Ross

        That thinking hasn’t let me down yet.

        And what might kill the gas tax bill? Is it Nikki Haley or Hugh Leatherman’s decision to let a 20 week abortion ban bill onto the calendar? Is that the compromise you want and love? Trading an abortion ban for a tax increase? That’s a win-win for you, I would guess. Should Democrats compromise on the abortion issue or filibuster to the point where the gas tax doesn’t come up?

        Oh, and here’s your pop culture quote:

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          I didn’t realize Leatherman was behind that (the abortion bill). I thought others were, including Ronnie Cromer, Lee Bright and Katrina Shealy.

          In any case, before you make up your mind that the abortion bill is somehow a barrier to the roads bill, you should read Cindi’s column today. It’s more complicated than that.

          And as she explains, the Senate could fix the problem. It just doesn’t. And not because this or that senator is to blame. Because enough of them relish the personal power that the ability to more or less singlehandedly block legislation, that as a group, they’re not inclined to give it up.

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            Pertinent excerpts from Cindi’s column:

            Of course, the abortion bill wouldn’t be such a roadblock if the Senate would deal with the bills it puts on special order. If senators would stick around and debate those bills. If senators would let an honest opponent have his say and then sit him down and take a vote. But they won’t do that. In the month and a half since putting the polluter-protection bill in the priority position, the Senate has gotten to that bill — not necessarily debated it, but gotten that far on its daily agenda — four times. All the other days, senators adjourned before they even got to it.


            It doesn’t have to be this way. Senators could, and should, sit out a tedious debate rather than adjourning every day because someone threatened to filibuster. And if the filibusterer’s bladder didn’t give out first, they could vote to shut down the filibuster after a few hours, or a few days, and move on to the next bill. But some Republicans have a bizarre philosophical objection to telling a colleague he can’t keep dilly-dallying, and Democrats have pretty much taken the position that with such small numbers they must preserve the power of the filibuster, even when it’s killing legislation that they support. And of course senators aren’t going to vote to end the filibuster when they oppose the bill being filibustered — or one that’s waiting in line behind it.

            So, with four weeks and a day left, there you are: Unless or until someone puts together a deal that can deliver to pretty much every senator something he wants passed more than he wants anything else killed, we get nothing.

            That’s pretty much the way it’s been in the Senate for a long time, regardless of who the pro tem is.

            1. Doug Ross

              “But some Republicans have a bizarre philosophical objection to telling a colleague he can’t keep dilly-dallying,”

              Which of these nameless Republicans is she talking about? What is the problem with identifying specific people as the culprits?

            2. Brad Warthen Post author

              Oh, that’s just a standard part of the collegiality culture in the Senate. Sitting someone down is seen as a violation of senatorial courtesy.

              I don’t just identify it with Republicans, though. It’s just that in the same sentence, she blamed Democrats for something else, so she assigned the first problem to Republicans. Or something.

              If I were still there, I would have asked her about that during the editing process…

          2. Brad Warthen Post author

            Back when we were pushing the government restructuring effort that culminated in the changes of 1993 (of course, we were pushing for much, much more than the Legislature went along with), some bumper stickers cropped up, produced by opponents of reform, to celebrate their belief that the Senate was where the legislation would die. The stickers said, “The Senate, Now More Than Ever.”

            Because that’s what the Senate did best — kill initiatives.

            Over the years, we quoted that to each other many times on the editorial board — with bitter irony when senators were killing yet another good idea, with a certain fond satisfaction when they were stopping a bad one…

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              I’m just never going to get you to accept that the Legislature does bad things collectively, am I? Even though they do. There are times when there is a problem created particularly by a certain senator, and when that happens you’ll generally see the name reported.

              But what I keep trying to get you to understand is that even THEN, that senator wouldn’t get away with it if the rest of them didn’t LET him.

              Power is amazingly diffused in the Senate, with each senator having something like a veto power. And most of them like having that power, so they as a group refuse to change the rules that allow that. They are really, truly COLLECTIVELY to blame for this problem.

              Yeah, I get disgusted when one lawmaker blocks a bill. But not really appreciably more disgusted than I am with the rest of them for letting him do it. And that’s my attitude because I understand how things work.

              Individuals are mentioned when it is relevant to mention individuals, and I don’t know why you don’t notice that. (For instance, the story about the abortion bill possibly blocking the roads bill names Sens. Ronnie Cromer, Brad Hutto, Katrina Shealy, Lee Bright, and Rep. Wendy Nanney as playing key roles.) But it’s dishonest to obscure the issue by blaming individuals when they are a small part of the problem.

              When a good bill fails to pass, or a bad bill passes, the MAJORITY is, by definition, to blame. That is, when it comes to a vote. If one person manages to bury it in committee or something, you will see that person named. But when the body AS a body does a bad thing, most of them share the blame.

            2. Brad Warthen Post author

              That said, I believe the newspaper should run a how-they-voted box with every story about an actual roll-call vote — online, if there’s no room in the paper.

              That’s the one thing that I think news organizations should to a LOT more of than they do.

              That, of course, is very different from naming a scapegoat just to name one. That’s just giving full information so that voters can track what their own representatives do. Most of the time, one’s own rep won’t be one of the main players on a bill. But he or she is responsible for that vote, and you have a right to know. And you CAN find out if you try — it’s public information. But the purpose of news organizations is to save people who don’t have time from having to do such things themselves.

  2. bud

    Funding the roads without fixing DOT is almost as bad as reforming DOT without funding …

    Depends on the reform. History has taught us that bad reform can make things far worse. Giving the governor complete control will only shift the corruption around. Whenever The State uses the word “accountability” you need to hide your wallet, your valued possessions and your children. It’s a benign sounding word with potentially devastating consequences. I for one council great caution. The DOT just isn’t has horrible as Brad or Doug make it out to be.

    1. Kathryn Fenner

      Hey, bud–you are the closest thing to an expert here: what do you think the best approach is?

      1. bud

        I would suggest something like the base closing commission. Appoint experts to rank projects based on legitimate cost/benefit criteria. Then let the general assembly vote the whole thing up or down.

          1. bud

            They would still have to be ranked. Just not enough money for everything. Perhaps have 3 lists: one for maintenance, one for major upgrades and a third for safety issues.

            1. Kathryn Fenner

              I think in order of importance, safety, maintenance and then upgrades. I think we need to stop widening our way into more sprawl.

  3. Lynn Teague

    The issue isn’t just DOT, it is the State Infrastructure Bank, which serves to concentrate transportation funding decision-making in the hands of a few of the most politically powerful legislators. I agree with Bud that giving the Governor complete control isn’t necessarily the answer. However, neither is continuing a system in which a handful of wealthy developers and others who stand to benefit can influence a handful of powerful political figures to totally distort the decision-making process.

  4. Brad Warthen Post author

    It looks like the roads bill is falling victim to something other than the abortion bill.

    This release just came in from Antjuan Seawright of Sunrise Communications (Darrell Jackson’s firm):

    Majority of Senate Republicans Vote To Kill Roads Bill

    Columbia- Today, South Carolina State Senator Brad Hutto (D-Orangeburg) issued the following statement in response to a procedural vote taken in the State Senate to place the roads bill on the Senate Calendar for debate.

    “It is a sad day in South Carolina”, said Senator Brad Hutto (D-Orangeburg). “There was a very clear opportunity today in the Senate to make roads a priority in South Carolina and, sadly, the Senate refused to vote to put the only roads bill we have in the Senate on the calendar for debate. For me, the vote was simple, if you are pleased with the roads in our state, vote no. If you want better roads vote yes. The results indicated to me that roads are not an important issue for some of my colleagues.”

    Hutto added “I am proud of those who joined in the fight and voted to put the bill on the calendar. It will continue to be a sad day as long as Governor Haley and her allies continue to block the consideration of legislation to improve our roads.”

    “ There is no question roads are the number one issue to the people of South Carolina”, said Senator Joel Lourie (D-Richland). The vote taken today was quite shocking considering everywhere I go throughout the state, I hear from hard working South Carolina citizens how we need better roads. A pot hole in South Carolina doesn’t have a Democrat or Republican label beside it, so it is truly frustrating that we did not vote to put the roads bill on the calendar for debate. This is not a Democratic or Republican issue, this is again a South Carolina issue and it is our duty and responsibility as State Senators to address the issues that affect the people of this state” concluded Lourie.

  5. Jeff Mobley

    I would never try to argue that there wasn’t any gamesmanship or ulterior strategy involved in the decision that put the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act on the Senate calendar, but the truth is that the version of that bill that passed the House should have sailed through the Senate the next day, because there is nothing in it that should be considered controversial by an informed and reasonable citizen of our state.

    To me, it’s a sad commentary on our culture that this measure could be thought of by a member of either party as one that would surely tie up the Senate in debate.

    There are plenty of people who might consider themselves much, much more “pro-choice” than I am, who ought to have zero problem with this bill.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I see no problem with it, either, but then, I’m not a Democrat.

      Even in South Carolina, it seems that Democrats have trouble facing their fellows if they don’t do anything they can to stop any bill that imposes ANY restriction on any abortion.

      Bob Casey Democrats are exceedingly rare…

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Wow. There are 27 pro-life Democratic state and local officeholders in Massachusetts, and not one in South Carolina.

          I suppose this is in part due to the fact that there are a whole lot more Democrats there, so you’d expect to find more diversity of opinion among them. More Catholics, too.

          But it seems that here or there there’d be SOME Democrat in SC who would oppose abortion. There are certainly cultural conservatives. One Democratic lawmaker mentioned to me recently (oddly, at a time when we were discussing something totally unrelated) that “I’m big on the fact that God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.”

          So it seems there’d be SOME pro-lifers, somewhere…

          1. bud

            But it seems that here or there there’d be SOME Democrat in SC who would oppose abortion.

            Probably ALL Democrats oppose abortion. It’s who that gets to decide that’s at issue.

            1. Kathryn Fenner

              I don’t know what you mean about all Democrats opposing abortion: you mean they would not have one? I certainly believe the approximately one in three American women who have had one were in favor of having it legally. Surely many of them are Democrats.

          2. Jeff Mobley

            Here are the Democrats in the SC House that voted for the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act (at either the 2/11 vote or the 2/12 vote):

            Grady A. Brown
            J. David Weeks
            J. Wayne George
            Jackie E. “Coach” Hayes
            Laurie Slade Funderburk
            Mandy Powers Norrell
            MaryGail K. Douglas
            Michael A. “Mike” Anthony
            Robert L. Ridgeway
            Russell L. Ott
            Walton J. McLeod
            William K. “Bill” Bowers

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