After nearly two years of sometimes heated debate, the South Carolina House and Senate have agreed to borrow $2 billion for roadwork over the next decade in response for restructuring the commission that approves South Carolina’s transportation projects.
The proposal now goes to Gov. Nikki Haley, who has not said yet if she will sign this specific version.
The House voted 109-2 Wednesday in favor of a proposal that gives the governor more control of the state Department of Transportation (DOT) commission by allowing her to nominate its members. The eight-member commission is currently selected by lawmakers from each of the state’s seven congressional districts and one at-large chosen by the governor. While the bill would now allow the governor to select the other seven members, it also gives legislators the power to reject her choices. The new commission would also select the state’s Transportation Secretary — a Cabinet position currently appointed by the governor.
State Rep. Gary Simrill, R-Rock Hill, said he hopes the new arrangement would eliminate the regional politicking that critics say exists on the commission.
“If we’re going to get to a statewide perspective of what is needed in the state… we have to that person who is in charge of DOT to make those decisions,” he said.
Senators late Tuesday night added an amendment in a 31-10 vote that requires the governor’s appointee to go through a three-step approval process. First, the nominee must be voted on by lawmakers from the congressional district they would represent, then a joint legislative transportation committee, then finally the full Senate itself.
House members were displeased with the language, viewing it as a Senate effort to diminish their own role in choosing highway commissioners. Others complained their constituents’ will could be overridden by the joint committee or Senate.
But Simrill said the proposal was a late compromise. And, with fewer than two days remaining in the session, he said another plan was unrealistic. “We have really only one option,” he said. “We can accept the compromise between the House and the Senate and we can commence to reforming DOT and repaving roads, or we can go home and have yet another year where the citizens of South Carolina have no funding alternative.”
The measure also sets up $2 billion in borrowing to pay for construction over the next decade. The borrowing would be financed by $200 million in various Department of Motor Vehicles fees that have the ability to be bonded.
While Gov. Nikki Haley has not said if she will sign the bill, she has previously indicated she would back any proposal that did not cause a net tax increase and gave her the ability to choose transportation commissioners.
Democratic members have criticized the plan as a temporary funding measure that still does not address the long-term backlog of road and bridge repairs DOT says it needs. However, the Chamber of Commerce was pleased with the additional funding stream and new revenue. “S.1258 is a big step in the right direction toward fixing our state’s roads and bridges,” Chamber President Ted Pitts said in a statement. “(And) allocating resources to begin to bring South Carolina’s roads out of the disrepair that has hindered commerce and jeopardized the safety of our citizens for too long.”