State Treasurer Curtis Loftis says he is upset the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) did not inform him how much it was missing payments to contractors. The agency fell more than two months behind on payments for highway work and state loan bank debt before it received federal aid last week.
Loftis said he was originally told the agency was more than 30 days behind on $1.2 million in payments. However, he said paperwork he requested showed the actual number to be more than $33 million.
“(T)o find out the department owed millions of dollars is simply unacceptable,” Loftis said in a statement Wednesday, “We deserve a transparent and accountable DOT.”
He was also unhappy about how he got that information, “We received an unsigned document with numbers on it, which flies in the spirit of being accountable.”
Those numbers showed the financial situation was worse than SCDOT had made public at the time. Over $14 million in contractor payments were past the 30-day window required under state law. An additional $14 million in purchase orders and consultant work was also unpaid, as was a $4 million payment to the State Infrastructure Bank.
Governor Nikki Haley said $52 million in advance federal reimbursements have temporarily given the agency the money it needs. She said she wants changes in DOT, which is run by both her appointee– Transportation Secretary Robert St. Onge– and a board of commissioners largely chosen by the state legislature.
“We won’t have a cash flow problem when we actually learn what it means to keep reserves,” she told reporters Wednesday, “And that is something that is not happening in DOT… In any business, you go through ups and downs in cash flow. DOT and any other agency is no different than that.”
Last week, the Federal Highway Administration gave South Carolina advance payments for money that was supposed to be paid to the State Infrastructure Bank over the next 12 months. Officials say that helped pay off contractors last week, but the agency is still on the hook for $4.2 million to the infrastructure bank each month over the next year.
During a Budget & Control Board meeting two weeks ago, Loftis challenged Haley on SCDOT. He tried to bring a possible loan for the agency up for a vote, but the Governor shot him down, saying it was not on the board’s agenda.
Legislators are also concerned. Sen. Larry Grooms (R-Berkeley) says the Senate Transportation Committee he chairs will begin holding hearings the first week in September. He said he thinks lawmakers may reconsider a 2007 revamp of SCDOT and the Transportation Commission.