Timmons: A gas tax alone won’t fix our road woes

Everyone knows South Carolina has a major infrastructure problem. Roads and bridges in our state are in terrible condition. As your senator, I am committed to finding solutions to fix the problem; however, it is a complex issue pitting many dissimilar interests squarely against one another.

The optimal solution is a combination of different ideas that depend upon each other like a three-legged stool and would fall without all three legs firmly in place.

First, we need a $1 billion-dollar dedicated annual revenue stream to repair and maintain the condition of existing state roads and bridges. This dedicated stream of revenue must be diversified and designed to last decades not just years.

But that is not as simple as it seems. In order to allow the General Assembly to properly fix the roads and budget for the future, we need to sufficiently diversify the funding so the state is not solely dependent on just one source of revenue. A gas tax increase and at least another half dozen other revenue streams would accomplish this goal and avoid having to deal with this kind of crisis again anytime soon.

The second part is an offset to balance the gas tax increase. It is unconscionable to raise taxes when our state has had revenue surpluses for the last decade. We should reform the tax code and target the offsets towards lower and middle income families. Estimates project a gas tax hike costing $100 difference per year. We must protect the families that would be hit the hardest by the gas tax increase. Thankfully, our gas tax now includes at least 30 percent of out of state dollars.

The last component is government reform. Our state’s governance over infrastructure dollars is a complicated system where no one person is accountable. We must take the politics out of roads and make only one person, the governor, 100 percent responsible. Business-like efficiency and transparency in decision-making is paramount. No amount of additional road funding will fix our roads unless it is appropriately disbursed in an apolitical and efficient manner.

This three-part solution will allow us to have sufficient dedicated funding and ensure these funds are spent efficiently and with transparency and accountability.

The main obstacle is as always, power and influence. Some senators benefit from controlling the existing road funding. They like having that power to influence road decisions. The optimal solution described above is not perfect for these senators because it reduces their power and influence.

Currently, we have almost 20 senators (out of 44) committed to either structural reform or tax offsets. Simply increasing revenue by $900 million annually will not fix the roads in Greenville. The pressure is on the General Assembly to address this road funding and reform issue, otherwise the Legislature will have failed and the economic future of our state will be in serious jeopardy.

For these reasons, I will insist on real reform these next few weeks. I will support tax offsets because it is the right thing to do, but most importantly I will do everything in my power to block a simple stand-alone tax increase.