When I first met Micah Caskey last year, I was still toying with the idea of running for the House seat he was seeking. My interview with him put that out of my head, I was so impressed with him. I agreed with him on so many things, and was so impressed by the thoughtful way he approached every issue even when I didn’t agree, that it occurred to me that if I did run against him, I might be tempted to vote for him anyway.
I’m not sure if this is the same statement he made on the floor of the House yesterday, but whatever he said there also made an impression, judging by multiple Tweets from @cassielcope and @AveryGWilks, reporters for The State.
As I said, an impression was made.
The #1 issue in South Carolina is improving our state’s transportation infrastructure. Our roads are in terrible condition and we’ve got to fix them.
I want to address my position on the roads. This is a rather long post, but I think it’s important that I share where I stand on the issue. I ran for office promising folks that I would call the balls and strikes as I saw them, even if it wasn’t politically popular.
Well, ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to pay the piper. It’s time to raise our state’s gas tax.
Sadly, the Governor hasn’t had anything helpful to say about fixing the roads. Instead of drawing a roadmap for how things can be improved, he’s chosen to do what we’ve come to expect from career politicians:
1. Put head in the sand
2. Yell “CONSERVATIVE!”
3. Hope nobody pays attention to reality
In the absence of Executive Branch leadership, the task of fixing roads has been taken up by the Legislative Branch. Unfortunately, crafting the law to fix the roads in the General Assembly as been incredibly contentious. There are a lot of cooks in the kitchen and everybody thinks his or her solution is best.
The 124 members of the S.C. House gave it our best shot in House Bill #3516. And, as is their custom, the 46-member S.C. Senate returned the House bill will something that looked very different. (To their credit, the Senate did at least manage to break from their tradition of not passing a roads bill out at all.)
When the House and the Senate don’t agree on versions of a bill, the parliamentary rules require there to be a “Conference Committee”, made up of 3 members from each body, to sit together and negotiate a compromise.
If you think of each body’s initial bill as a compromise from within that respective body (you need a majority vote to get out of the body, after all), the Conference Committee’s version is a Compromise of Compromises.
An ugly baby, to be sure.
I have broken down the Conference Committee version of H.3516 below. Like me, there’s probably a lot you don’t like about it. But, ultimately, the two must-haves (for me to vote for it) are there:
1. Gas tax money goes ONLY to roads (no sidewalks, parks, etc.)
2. There is reform in governance at DOT so that citizens can rightfully hold the Governor accountable for the performance of his agency.
This bill has both. (1) All new revenue must go into the Infrastructure Maintenance Trust Fund for existing infrastructure improvement only. (2) The Governor directly appoints all of the DOT Commissioners, with approval by the entire General Assembly — not just the Senate — and can remove a Commissioner at-will, on his own.
In truth, I think we need to eliminate the DOT Commission entirely and elevate the Secretary of Transportation to a Cabinet seat, but my view is a minority view in the 170-member General Assembly (we lost an amendment vote to do that in the House 33-84). Nevertheless, I think the Conference Committee version gives citizens the ability to hold the Governor accountable when the Commissioners he appoints stray from his priorities.
South Carolina deserves action. If past Governors or General Assemblies had acted in the past, we wouldn’t be in this position. However, since we can’t go back in time, our choice is simplified.
I don’t think raising taxes is a good answer, but I also see it as the only realistic answer for this problem. There’s no magic roads fairy coming to fix this. Waiting on the ‘perfect’ answer doesn’t work in the military, and it doesn’t work here.
I will vote to adopt the Conference Committee Report, and if the Governor chooses to put his own career ahead of South Carolina’s best interest, I’ll vote to override his veto.
Certainly don’t let me get in the way of your government-hating. I encourage you to be skeptical. I implore you to scrutinize SCDOT more than ever. I certainly will. Whether through the Legislative Audit Council, Inspectors General, or the Legislative Oversight Committee, I will be working to ensure SCDOT delivers a better investment return of tax dollars than they have in the past. I invite you to put your energy toward the same.
From where we are today, a gas tax increase is the only responsible solution.
Conference Report on Roads Bill
GOVERNANCE AND REFORM
● Provides real accountability and transparency at the Department of Transportation (public records, mandated meetings, ethical requirements for commissioners)
● Gives Governor complete control of the Commission with a clear line of authority and at-will removal
● Highway Commission organized to reflect regional representation with 7 Congressional districts and 2 statewide at-large members appointed by the Governor (adds 1 member to current structure)
● Requires General Assembly, not just the S.C. Senate, to approve all 9 Highway Commission appointees
● Strengthens DOT’s control over project authorization and financial decisions by the State Transportation Infrastructure Bank
● Creates a long-term and sustainable funding stream by increasing the motor fuel user fee by 2 cents/gallon over the next 6 years, not exceeding 12 cents/gallon
● Safeguards taxpayers from future automatic tax increases by not indexing for inflation
● Protects SC taxpayers from continuing to solely foot the bill for infrastructure repair by not using General Fund dollars and captures 30% of the motor fuel user fee revenue from out-of-state motorists
● Creates an Infrastructure Maintenance Trust Fund to ensure all new revenue collected from the motor fuel user fee is used only for existing infrastructure needs
● Does not increase or change fees for South Carolina driver’s license applications or renewals
● Increases funding for County Transportation Committees targeted to repair rural and secondary roads
● Captures revenue from alternative energy motorists by creating a biennial registration fee for all hybrid and electric vehicles
● Established a road use fee to capture revenue from out of state truckers
● Raises the cap on motor vehicle sales tax to $500 and creates a $250 out of state maintenance fee
● Incentivizes road construction industry to return to SC with responsible infrastructure investment
● Provides $640 million in new annual revenue for infrastructure maintenance needs when fully implemented
● Includes responsible tax relief to offset the user fee increase for South Carolina residents
● Offers a refundable income tax credit equal to the motor fuel user fee increase that must be reauthorized prior to 2023
● Enhances already existing College Tuition Tax Credit for every South Carolina tuition-payer to enhance workforce development
● Contains a non-refundable Low Income Tax Credit for working families (not federal model)
● Increases the maximum income tax credit from $210 to $350 for dual income household joint filers
● Reduces SC manufacturers property tax burden by $35 million using a phased-in approach over 6 years
I’m proud he’s my representative. We need a lot more like him. Keep up the good work, Micah!