The State Budget and Control Board today heard from Department of Transportation Director Gen. Robert St. Onge on the status of his agency’s financial troubles. State Treasurer Curtis Loftis has insisted on the board seeking answers since he heard from contractors who were not getting paid. In the short term, the DOT had to get a $52 million advance from its federal highway funds in order to pay these bills.
But the overdue bills are a symptom of a larger problem, other state officials agree. But they do not all agree on where that problem lies. Gov. Haley and many GOP legislators insist the agency should serve as a true Cabinet department, instead of being led by a commission appointed by the Legislature. That will improve accountability and reduce confusion, says Haley.
Treasurer Loftis, who is often at odds with his fellow members of the Budget and Control Board, focused his criticism at DOT managers:
“The taxpayers deserve more from the DOT than a string of unpaid contractors, a prime account with less than $3.00 in it at one point and management which has refused to be transparent and accountable, he said. “We must have greater transparency and accountability at the DOT and that starts with internal audits. Those audits must be given to a third-party rather than agency management.”
St. Onge responded, “We’ve taken a hard look at our cash, we’re analyzing it on a regular basis. It’s not been a fun or easy process to get our arms around, but we are working hard to get it done. When I don’t answer questions as completely as some may like, it’s because I want to make sure I am telling the truth when I say it. And the times that I have said something that wasn’t true, we’ve got to go back and correct it as rapidly as we can,” he said. “But there is absolutely no intent to be deceptive, to deceive you or the public or do anything that would be considered malfeasance.”
There was no concise answer to Treasurer Loftis’s question, “Have y’all ever quantified what the whole of DOT is, how much have you over-committed? ”
However, Senate Finance Chair Hugh Leatherman offered an answer to his question, “How did we get there?” Loftis added that he now wants the Legislature’s help and St. Onge said he’d welcome that along with “any audits you send my way.”
AUDIO: Leatherman, Lofts, St. Onge dialogue (6:19)
A spokeswoman from the state’s Infrastructure Bank answered the board’s questions. She said that even though SC DOT is a few weeks behind in its loan payments for road projects, the bank itself has the funds to cover that shortage –and whatever it owes its investors.