The possibility of increasing the state’s gas tax has become a perennial issue for our legislature, but so far, remains a dormant idea.
For some lawmakers, the possibility of adding more cost to traveling our roads is a non-starter. The argument has been framed around how an increase would put an added burden on families and small businesses. Additionally, any vote for a tax increase may deny a lawmaker re-election as it would inevitably be used by political opponents. However, a state panel has indicated that the state will require $29 billion in additional revenue over the next 20 years to address problems with our roads, highways and bridges. The best option to fill that need appears to be increasing the gas tax, if only be a penny or so.
According to the S.C. Chamber of Commerce, a penny increase in the fee would bring in about $25 million in revenue to the state.
A recent analysis by the S.C. Department of Transportation showed that the state would need $48.3 billion through 2033 to upgrade our highways to a condition of “good,” but only $19 billion in existing revenue streams exist.
Our state’s infrastructure is critical when it comes to economic development as well as the quality of life for residents.
South Carolina’s roads are in dire need of repair, and although maintaining roads is a core function of government, that role has not been adequately fulfilled.
The state has the fourth-largest network of state-maintained roads in the nation, but it also has one of the nation’s lowest gasoline taxes, a much-needed resource to maintain our infrastructure requirements. It’s obvious our state has a strong aversion to tax increases – evident by the fact our legislature hasn’t increased the gas tax in 25 years. If anything, our state has enthusiastically pursued tax cuts, even in lean times.
While the legislature should be commended for not choking residents on our own tax bills, this mentality has certainly hampered our ability to improve or even maintain our state’s infrastructure. There are states that have decided to pay for roads by taking away from other services such as education. That would be unwise.
South Carolina needs to use an appropriate funding source to fix issues such as pot holes, ragged edges and faint lines that plague our roads. The gas tax is a reasonable avenue. It may also help to encourage more drivers to car pool, fostering a more environmentally friendly commute to work.
Additionally, a maintenance plan – outlining exactly where the money would be used – needs to be orchestrated by the legislature in coordination with the state’s transportation department.
The gasoline tax is not a panacea. However, it needs to be part of a larger, comprehensive plan that helps to ensure our roads are adequately maintained.
While our residents don’t need to be cash crunched, maintaining our roads is vital to our state’s future and should have a positive impact moving forward.