Gov. Nikki Haley waited until the eleventh hour before signing S.1258, the state’s roads bill passed last week, and in doing so she lashed out at House and Senate leadership for what she called “incremental and incomplete reform.”
The measure dedicates up to $4 billion toward the state’s roads and bridges and includes reforms of the S.C. Department of Transportation’s oversight.
Haley took issue with those reforms, which give the governor power to appoint DOT commissioners but give the power to reject those appointments to the legislative delegation the commissioner is representing.
“So nothing will change,” Haley wrote in a letter to Senate President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, and House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Hartsville. “The regional horse-trading that has been the driving force behind the arbitrary way we select road projects will continue. Political power will reign over logic and reason.”
She went on to suggest that a statewide plan for road and bridge infrastructure “will remain a pipe dream — unless the General Assembly acts.”
From the onset of the debate, Haley called for reforms in the selection process of DOT commissioners. She called for gubernatorial appointment of commissioners as well as the secretary of the department. Both measures were approved in the first version of the bill to come out of the House Ways and Means Committee, but the Senate Finance Committee removed those provisions.
Both houses came to an agreement that gives the governor the power to appoint commissioners, but allows appointments to be halted by the legislative delegation of the region the commission is appointed to represent. Additionally, the governor cannot remove a commissioner without getting legislative approval.
“At its core a bill that has been publically celebrated as landmark reform simply preserves the status quo: South Carolina will remain a state where the Legislature, all 170 members of it, controls our transportation system,” Haley said.
Transportation Secretary Christy Hall said her department has already started looking at potential interstate and bridge projects to be funded by the $4 billion, which would be allotted over 10 years.
The bill allows for motor vehicle taxes and Department of Motor Vehicles fees to be used for bonding purposes. Additionally, all projects from the S.C. Transportation Infrastructure Bank will have to be approved by the DOT Commission. The bill decreased the minimum amount of financing for such projects from $100 million to $20 million.
“We will also diligently implement the administrative reforms and use this as an opportunity to increase our transparency to the public through revised reporting to the S.C. DOT Commission,” Hall said in an emailed statement.
The S.C. Chamber of Commerce and the nonprofit S.C. Alliance to Fix Our Roads applauded Haley’s signing of the bill. Ted Pitts, president of the state chamber, said he agreed that the final bill “falls woefully short of a sustainable, long-term solution,” but he said that it was an improvement and that the chamber will “continue to make infrastructure a top priority.”
Bill Ross, executive director of the roads alliance, said in an emailed statement the additional funding for road and bridge infrastructure will start the process of alleviating many areas of traffic congestion, “which is vital to South Carolina’s industrial development.”
Although Haley signed the bill, she said it was not a victory and lawmakers should not present its passage as such.
“One month from now we will start a new fiscal year, a new budget cycle, and the process of planning for next year’s fiscal and policy initiatives,” Haley said. “I am confident that, once again, roads will be at the top of our agenda. It has to be. Our business is unfinished.”