Legislature Passes DOT ‘Reform’ Bill

pothole in road


[Update: On Wednesday, June 8, Gov. Haley signed the bill analyzed below, calling it “incomplete reform” and “far less than what the people of South Carolina both expect and deserve from us.”]

All throughout the 2016 legislative session, roads-related bills have fluttered around the State House like butterflies. Late on Wednesday afternoon, the House finally passed one of these bills by concurring with a collection of bizarrely confusing Senate amendments. As expected, the bill wouldn’t make the current road funding system accountable, or come anywhere near that goal.

What would accountability look like? Simple: placing the entire roads system under one official, elected by the entire state – the governor. Only then can someone be held accountable for bad or politicized funding decisions and consistently poor road conditions. Currently, no one can be held accountable for these things.

Here’s how it went down:

On Tuesday, May 31, Speaker Jay Lucas gave a brief speech blaming the legislature’s probable failure to pass a bill on the Senate and the governor. In response, the Senate took up S.1258 (the bond bill amended with DOT reform components by the House) and replaced the House’s weak DOT reforms with a proposal that’s even more convoluted than the Senate version.

How convoluted? Here’s how it would work.

Under the Senate amendment, the governor would appoint the eight DOT commissioners – one from each congressional district, and one at-large – upon the advice and consent of the Senate. These appointees would then go before their respective congressional legislative delegations for approval. If approved, they would go before the Joint Transportation Review Committee (JTRC). If approved by the JTRC, they then would go before the Senate for a final vote. The at-large appointee would go straight to the JTRC for approval. If at any point the appointee is not approved, the governor would start over with a new appointee.

The DOT Secretary would be appointed by the DOT commission rather than the governor. Furthermore, the governor would only have the ability to remove commissioners at will with the prior approval of the respective congressional delegation. The State Transportation Infrastructure Bank (STIB) would be required to submit their decisions to the DOT Commission for approval. While the STIB would be required to follow Act 114 criteria for road funding projects, the legislature could override that by passing a joint resolution to allow the STIB to fund a project that is not in accordance with the Act 114 prioritization criteria. This would essentially allow lawmakers to bypass what little accountability they just put in place for the STIB at will.

Finally, the amendment includes language stating that the General Assembly finds this legislation in compliance with the constitutional requirement that a bill can only have one subject – a legislative maneuver clearly intended as a preemptive defense of against a likely legal challenge base on the fact that bill has more than one subject.

We have seen several variations of DOT “reform” that, at best, simply reshuffle the pieces rather than eliminating the vague bureaucratic layers between the citizens and the people who make road funding decisions. This attempt at “reform” is so egregious, in fact, that it makes one wonder if it’s not a way to kill the whole idea of a roads bill.

The bill now goes to the governor’s desk.

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