Testifying before the state Senate Finance Committee Tuesday, the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) secretary was grilled by senators wanting to know what the agency does with its current funding before they approve giving it any more.
Christy Hall broke down to senators what and where the agency’s money goes during the meeting, which lasted more than two hours. “Our budget does show that half of our funds are dedicated to paving projects,” she told senators. “Whether it’s paving on the interstate system, paving of the small two lane roadways or paving of the primary roads. And our day to day maintenance. Half of our budget is dedicated to that.”
Hall told the committee that the more time the state takes to make repairs to crumbling roads, the more expensive it will be. “The longer you wait the more it costs to make the repairs. It doesn’t get better with time. Especially on paving projects,” said Hall. She said repairs can often cost ten times as much to completely restore a badly-deteriorated roadway than simply repaving it.
Senators heard from Hall that funding for the DOT is not meeting the needs of the state’s roads. “State funding for the agency has not kept pace with inflation,” Hall said. South Carolina has primarily relied on a 16 cents per-gallon gas tax for the majority of its state funding. That tax has not been adjusted for inflation since it was last raised in 1989. In recent years, legislators have set aside additional funds for the agency by redirecting auto sales tax revenue and surplus budget money toward road funding along with raising nearly $500 million in bonds.
The matter of funding road repairs in the state has been hot-button issue. Road funding legislation has been stalled in the state Senate for nearly a year now after passing the House in April. Some conservatives are opposing an increase in the gas tax unless it comes with reforms at the Department of Transportation, specifically changes in the Transportation Commission that votes on all road funding decisions.