When times are good, businesses invest in their future. When times are good, government should invest in core government services for all of our futures.
Once again, the battle lines are drawn in Columbia over whether we should invest in these core government services or maintain a status quo that leaves us ensconced near the bottom of any ranking of states.
On one side of this debate is an alliance of small business owners, the Chambers of Commerce and regular folks — all South Carolina residents — who see the tremendous potential in our state and are tired of our roads being a national laughingstock.
On the other is a small, vocal minority, well-funded by wealthy out-of-state ideologues. They have no plan, no vision and no stake in our future. They will oppose any fix that includes raising the gasoline tax, which will leave road funding to the whims of state budget writers — precisely what they say they’re trying to stop.
The gas tax hasn’t been raised since the Reagan administration. We’re asking the Department of Transportation to do so much more with so much less, and in the wake of the 2015 floods, we’ve seen how well the DOT can function. But could you run your 2015 household budget on your 1987 income? You’d probably fall as far behind in basic household maintenance as our DOT.
In 2016, we face a unique opportunity to finally move our transportation system into the 21st century. If we want to continue to recruit the manufacturers that have revolutionized our economy — and grow new ones — we need to be sure they can move their goods to market.
The opponents to progress transform their negative political view into a zero-sum game rather than seeing this kind of investment as boosting the economy, creating jobs, making us safer and improving our quality of life.
Georgia and North Carolina have taken major steps to improve their advantage over our state. The Raleigh News & Observer even mocked us during its state’s road funding debate: “If you ever duck across the state line to fill up on South Carolina’s much cheaper gas (averaging 20 cents a gallon less last week), you know that drivers there are getting what they pay for — crumbling roads that make most of our roads look downright healthy. There’s a good lesson there for us, one our lawmakers need to heed.”
By now, you know the statistics. Half of our state roads are rated “poor.” Our rural roads are either the most deadly or second-most deadly in the nation, depending on the year. We have the fourth-largest state road system in the nation and the lowest per-mile gas tax.
These opponents put up straw men about lobbyists and special interests instead of looking after your friends and neighbors — like small businesses and local Chambers of Commerce are doing. They make bogus arguments despite the fact that they employ their own lobbyists and are funded by Kansas billionaires who have no interest in the future of our state, only their national political influence.
Meanwhile, 75 percent of your local Chamber of Commerce businesses support a comprehensive, substantial and recurring funding package so we can move our economy into the 21st century.
Has our DOT had problems in the past? Certainly. Every DOT faces the same criticisms. We have a road system where more than half of our state roads are poor because our investments in this core government service fell behind.
In this debate, you need to figure out who is looking out for you. Who’s looking out for safer roads? Who’s looking out to be sure your children can walk to school safely?
Who is proposing solutions that grow the economy, create jobs and improve our quality of life?
That answer is simple: The statewide alliance of businesses — large and small — that are fighting for a better South Carolina.
As this debate heats up in the coming weeks, please take a few moments to join your friends and neighbors to fight the small, loud and well-funded minority opposing our future.