Incomplete DOT and STIB Reform

Companion bills H.4484 and H.4635 are somewhat similar to the reform package presented in 2015’s S.561 in that they would make some small reforms to transportation management, but ultimately fall far short of the actual needed reforms.

Like S.561, H.4484 and H.4635 would make all of the Department of Transportation (DOT) commission members appointed by the governor. Under current law seven of the commission’s eight members are elected by the state legislative delegations of the South Carolina’s seven congressional districts, and one statewide member is appointed by the Governor. Unfortunately, while the governor would have appointment power under H.4484 and H.4635 the legislature would retain its power over the commission members via the requirement that the governor’s appointments be screened and approved by the legislatively controlled Joint Transportation Review Committee (JTRC). Really, it would be more accurate to say two legislative leaders unaccountable to the state electorate would retain their power over the DOT commission, as the current House Speaker and Senate President Pro Tem control 6 of the 10 appointments to the JTRC.

In addition to altering the membership of the DOT commission, the bills would change the amount of consecutive time a member can serve on the board. Instead of a limit of no more than one consecutive four year term, commissioners would face a blanket twelve year limitation whether the time was served consecutively or not.

Under the proposed legislation the newly altered commission, and not the Governor, would be charged with appointing the Secretary of Transportation with the advice and consent of the Senate.

Regarding the State Transportation Infrastructure Bank (STIB), the bills would alter the STIB Board’s membership by removing the Chair of the DOT Commission, and adding the seven DOT Commission members who represent transportation districts to the STIB Board. This would increase the STIB board to 13 members. As with the DOT Commission, STIB board members would be limited to twelve years in office.

In terms of the STIB’s activities, the bills in question would allow the STIB to fund a project with eligible costs of at least $25 million. The STIB’s current project eligibility requirements impose a more strict criteria of $100 million in eligible costs. The bills would also make the STIB follow the Act 114 project priority criteria followed by the DOT when selecting projects. As the Policy Council has explained before these criteria are far less restrictive and more open to interpretation than is commonly thought. In any case, the bills gives the STIB the option of deviating from the Act 114 criteria if the General Assembly passes a joint resolution allowing the STIB to fund a project without using the criteria.

Finally, the bills would put a moratorium on new road construction projects until July 1 2020. This section is severely weakened by exceptions for:

  • any project for which preliminary engineering and design work has been initiated before January 1, 2016
  • large interstate projects for which matching funds are available
  • any project contained in a metropolitan planning organization’s transportation improvement plan before January 1, 2016
  • a new facility designed to be a toll road
  • expansions of roads that existed on June 30, 2015

Implementing the reforms contained in H.4484 and H.4635 would not fix our state’s transportation system. These reforms would provide a surface level change while serving to perpetuate the flawed system that has led to the current state of South Carolina roads. Compromise cannot be afforded when it comes to the state’s roads.

Real reform doesn’t isn’t reshuffling board and commission members while leaving the same few unaccountable politicians with power over the entire transportation system. Real reform must go farther. The STIB should be abolished and its funding should be used for road maintenance and repair. The DOT commission should likewise be abolished in favor of a DOT run by a secretary appointed by the Governor, an elected official who is accountable to the entire state.

 

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