- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:

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April 5

The Post and Courier of Charleston on a gas tax bill:

Gov. Henry McMaster was thumping his veto drum again Tuesday in opposition to a state gas tax hike, which again faces an uncertain future despite the evident need for more highway funding. The Legislature should simply advance a veto-proof plan this session.

The House of Representatives already has done so, as noted by House Speaker Jay Lucas in his response to Gov. McMaster’s latest veto threat. Rep. Lucas, R-Darlington, cited the importance of having motorists pay more for the wear and tear on the roads they use - and that includes out-of-state drivers who pay about one-third of the tax revenue.

Rep. Lucas added: “The House passed our roads bill with an overwhelming bipartisan and veto-proof majority, which protects the South Carolina taxpayer by providing a sustainable funding stream that requires every motorist to pay their fair share.”

Too bad, the Senate appears to have gone mushy on the topic, as it rejected a proposal last week to put the gas tax bill at the top its agenda. Mr. McMaster’s veto threat should revive the Senate’s interest in gaining approval of a bill with broad support - one that can override a veto.

The gas tax, at 16.75 cents a gallon, is the second lowest in the nation, and hasn’t been raised in 30 years. Meanwhile, the state faces a backlog of billions in road and bridge improvements.

There is a possibility that a gas tax increase can only be achieved by adjusting other taxes to ensure that it is “revenue neutral.” But it still faces foes in the Senate, who insist on the necessity of another round of DOT reform before a gas tax hike.

So while the House approved a comparatively painless 10-cent gas tax hike to be implemented over the next five years, the Senate is stumbling over itself to do the same. It needs to get a grip on the situation, or it can take responsibility for another wasted opportunity to provide badly needed funding for roads and bridges.

The Senate proposal, incidentally, would provide a 12-cent per gallon gas hike over a six-year period. Fully implemented, the Senate bill would provide about $800 million a year.

Certainly a gas tax increase is preferable to Mr. McMaster’s proposal to borrow $1 billion in the state bond bill for highway improvements. The governor’s plan would shelve all other building plans listed in the bill.

The governor’s bond proposal would not provide a recurring source of funding for highway projects. And state taxpayers would bear the full responsibility for repaying it.

In contrast, a gas tax increase would provide additional funding on a recurring basis, and a significant portion of the gas tax revenue would be coming from the pockets of out-of-state motorists.

The apparent lack of Senate resolve, coupled with Mr. McMaster’s veto threat, could scuttle the gas tax hike for yet another year. Senators who are serious about road improvements shouldn’t let it happen.

As roads conditions deteriorate, the rates of highway accidents and fatalities rise. So do the cost of auto repairs and the time spent on increasingly congested highways. Good roads are important to the state’s economy, including port operations.

South Carolina voters ought to recognize that elected officials who manage to derail an increase in the gas tax year after year aren’t doing them or the state any favors.

Online:

https://www.postandcourier.com

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April 2

The Island Packet of Hilton Head on fixing South Carolina’s roads:

South Carolina’s roads still need fixing.

And the state legislature still hasn’t figured out how to get it done.

The answer is to reform the state’s failed transportation governance. They must first go to the quite obvious root of the problem and drive a wooden stake through its heart. That means imploding the current system that has transportation decisions being made by a few powerful legislators instead of by actual needs and long-term planning. Our current failed transportation funding system, dominated by the legislature’s politics, would rather produce new roads than maintain existing roads. Who gets patched potholes named after them?

That is exactly why we are in this mess: crumbled pavement, ancient bridges, unsafe shoulders, pathetic conditions on Interstate-95, roads to nowhere, unmowed medians, and on and on.

But you can’t simply throw money at it, as the quick-fix tribe insists. They want a 10- to 12-cent increase over time in the state gasoline tax, in addition to a number of other increases in transportation-related fees and taxes.

But even with more money in a rotten system, you still have a rotten system.

Besides, spending on the roads has been increasing in recent years.

As state Sen. Tom Davis of Beaufort put it in a recent op-ed:

“Spending on South Carolina’s roads has skyrocketed during my time in the Senate. When I first took office in 2009, we spent $1 billion a year; now, after steady increases, road spending is $2.2 billion. Yet despite this 120 percent increase, many of our state’s roads remain in bad condition. Which begs an obvious question: ‘Why aren’t we getting the results the people deserve given the amount of their money we are spending?’ “

It’s because the legislature has been unwilling to abolish the current system. We must not squander this opportunity for change.

The state House sent the Senate a bill this session that would have made the state Highway Commission appointed by the governor and accountable to the governor. That would change the way highway dollars are spent, taking out of the equation the old politics of regionalism that consistently pull South Carolina down.

But a Senate subcommittee stripped the reform proposals from the bill, making it purely about pouring more money down the same old rat hole.

This is unfortunate and short-sighted. But an attempt in the Senate on Wednesday to debate the bill by giving it “special order” status failed. That’s good. That is a step in the right direction.

We disagree with legislators who will not support a gas tax hike without other, off-setting tax cuts. That skirts the issue. The discussion of South Carolina tax policy is always a good one because the current system is so convoluted. Can you say, “Act 388”? However, that is an entirely different set of issues than the simple question of whether more money needs to be dedicated to transportation.

And the spending question is separate from the governance problem, which must be fixed first.

Online:

https://www.islandpacket.com

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April 4

The Herald of Rock Hill on filling an area gap in weather radar coverage:

When the skies darkened and a tornado watch was declared for much of South Carolina Monday, residents in the affected counties no doubt hoped that officials would provide accurate news about the formation of a tornado or severe thunderstorm. Unfortunately, though, Upstate South Carolina and Mecklenburg County are at a distinct disadvantage in being able to detect dangerous weather in time to warn people.

Thankfully, a measure likely to be approved by Congress could change that. Once final changes to a bill are approved in the House, the National Weather Service will begin a study of gaps in Doppler radar coverage across the nation, and Charlotte is the likely site for a new radar system.

A pair of North Carolina lawmakers, U.S. Sen. Richard Burr and U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger, have been lobbying for a radar unit in the Charlotte area. They point to a 2012 tornado that struck eastern Mecklenburg County in 2012.

The twister went undetected, and victims received no warning. More than 40 homes were destroyed or damaged, although no one was killed or seriously injured.

The 80-mile distance between Charlotte and the nearest Doppler unit - at the National Weather Service office in Greer - is the longest in the nation for a major city. That radar unit is about 65 miles from Rock Hill.

According to area meteorologists promoting this bill, no other city the size of Charlotte has a radar farther than 58 miles away. Experts say that proximity to a storm helps determine what radar units can detect.

Tornadoes usually drop from a cloud formation no more than 4,000 feet off the ground. But the center of the beam of the Doppler radar in Greer passes 7,500 feet over Charlotte, making it difficult, if not impossible, to spot the spiral of a forming tornado.

This is a serious oversight. The radar gap puts major population areas in danger in a region that is no stranger to severe storms.

We hope this bill soon becomes law and that the National Weather Service decides to install a Doppler radar system in the Charlotte area. Thousands of residents in both Carolinas are likely to sleep better knowing forecasters will be better equipped to accurately track big storms before they strike.

Online:

https://www.heraldonline.com

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