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South Carolina Infrastructure Bank Complicates Transportation Funding

The state's Senate Finance Committee heard from leaders of the Infrastructure Bank, which has been criticized for being driven by politics and not the state’s road needs.

by Cassie Cope and Tim Flach, The State (Columbia, S.C.) / February 11, 2016
The Infrastructure Bank was created in 1997 to finance major transportation projects, including Charleston’s Ravenel Bridge, which is pictured here. Flickr/Jeremy Taylor

(TNS) — Changes to the controversial S.C. Transportation Infrastructure Bank will be part of the road-repair debate that state senators are preparing to have.

State Sen. Ray Cleary, R-Georgetown, said the future of the Infrastructure Bank will be debated in addition to tax increases, tax decreases and changes to the Transportation Department’s structure.

Cleary asked fellow senators to use an amendment that he and state Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Richland, co-sponsored as a template for the Senate debate.

The proposal includes roughly $665 million in tax hikes to repair roads, to be phased in over three years, and nearly $400 million in tax cuts for individuals and businesses, to be phased in over four years. The plan also would change the structure of the commission that oversees the Transportation Department, giving the governor slightly more control of the now legislatively controlled agency.

Lourie called the plan a package of trade-offs that will require all sides in the Legislature — as well as Gov. Nikki Haley — to "give a little bit."

He described the proposal as "a starting point," warning "there's plenty in here you won't like." However, Lourie added, it's vital to reach a deal to repair the state’s roads.

Earlier Wednesday, the Senate Finance Committee heard from leaders of the Infrastructure Bank, which has been criticized for being driven by politics and not the state’s road needs.

The proposal introduced Wednesday would send $237 million, raised from sales taxes on vehicle sales, to the Infrastructure Bank to expand and improve the state’s interstates. The proposal also would add two more members, to be appointed by the Senate majority and minority leaders, to the board that oversees the Infrastructure Bank.

After weeks of on-and-off road-repair discussions centering on tax hikes, tax cuts and the Transportation Department’s oversight, critics of the Infrastructure Bank said they are relieved to see its future will be part of the road-repair debate.

“We're encouraged by the interest of the senators to reform the (Infrastructure Bank), and the general agreement that we do not need two separate transportation agencies with two separate transportation plans,” said Coastal Conservation League head Dana Beach.

Beach — whose group opposes construction of new roads — supports abolishing the bank, created in 1997 to finance major transportation projects, including Charleston’s Ravenel Bridge.

Critics say the Infrastructure Bank amounts to a “shadow” Transportation Department.

"It seems like we have a lot of different power centers," said state Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, who also opposes the bank.

Davis said there is not coordination among the state’s various road agencies, including the Transportation Department, Infrastructure Bank, county transportation committees and counties with local-option sales tax programs for roads.

©2016 The State (Columbia, S.C.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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