Meant to post this yesterday, but got sidetracked.
On the same day that Tom Ervin was telling me how he had changed his mind and was now pushing for a gasoline tax increase to address the state’s road needs, Sen. “Greg” Gregory, R-Lancaster, had an op-ed piece in The State in which he used numbers to demonstrate why such an increase is needed.
4: South Carolina’s rank among 50 states in miles of state-maintained roads.
41,460: The number of those miles.
47: Where S.C. fuel tax ranks among the states.
1: Recent ranking of Rock Hill for the nation’s cheapest fuel.
16.75 cents: South Carolina’s fuel tax per gallon.
1987: When the state’s fuel tax last was increased.
7.8 cents: Purchasing power of the tax today compared to 1987.
33 cents: What the per-gallon tax would be today if it had been adjusted for inflation since 1987.
6 cents: S.C. fuel tax in 1937, when paving began on many of what were then farm-to-market roads.
36.5 cents: North Carolina’s fuel tax.
$560 million: Transportation Department’s revenue from state taxes this fiscal year.
$451 million: Portion of that revenue derived from taxes on fuel.
62 percent: Increase in the number of vehicle miles traveled in South Carolina since 1987.
14: Average mpg for new cars in 1975.
33: Average mpg for new cars today.
54: Mandated average mpg for 2025…
And so on. The numbers made it pretty plain that for a number of reasons, the current tax is inadequate for providing roads that can stand up to today’s traffic.
My only beef is that he copped out slightly at the end, partly invoking some of the magical thinking that has informed the statements of other pols on the subject:
Inflation has reduced the purchasing power of our fuel tax by more than 50 percent since it was last increased in 1987. Higher-mileage vehicles have decreased it by another 25 percent. These trends are irreversible. These facts mean that South Carolina must increase funding for our roads if only to stave off further decline. From where should it come? Some say an increased fuel tax. Others say from growth in the state’s general fund. Both are correct.
“Growth in the state’s general fund,” as in Nikki Haley’s “money tree,” as in Vincent Sheheen’s proposal to rely on the revenue growth that occurs every year as a result of inflation and population increases. I refer you to the way Cindi Scoppe eviscerated that Sheheen plan:
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.
We do NOT have to further cannibalize the other, badly underfunded, essential services of state government in order to fix our road system. We have a mechanism for that, an eminently fair system that charges the most to those who use the roads the most.
It’s called the gasoline tax.