S.C. House Speaker: Businesses will desert state if roads aren’t fixed

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S.C. House Speaker Jay Lucas at the dais in the Statehouse. Photo by Sam Holland

S.C. House Speaker Jay Lucas at the dais in the Statehouse. Photo by Sam Holland

The South Carolina Speaker of the House said during a talk in Greenville on Monday, Jan. 9,, that businesses will eventually stop investing in the state if lawmakers don’t find the money to repair its crumbling road network.

Rep. Jay Lucas, a Hartsville Republican beginning his third year as Speaker, kept an annual tradition by addressing members of Greenville’s First Monday Club just before the start of another lawmaking session.

Lucas said he was “embarrassed” that lawmakers did not solve the longstanding road-funding problem last year, but that he’s hopeful they will this year.

“North Carolina and Georgia, our primary competition for jobs in the Southeast, have both addressed this problem,” Lucas said.

Lucas pointed the finger of blame at the Senate, which he said took a year to respond to a House road-funding plan that combined a gas tax hike with an income tax cut.

When senators finally came up with their own plan, they proposed taking $400 million out of the state’s General Fund for roads, “one of the worst ideas to ever come out of the Senate,” Lucas said.

Lawmakers eventually agreed last year to borrow $2.2 billion to make road improvements over a decade, but Lucas said that will only make a 1 percent or 2 percent improvement in the state’s network.

He also said South Carolina cannot afford to maintain all of the secondary roads that lawmakers had built over the years for political reasons.

“If we don’t do something to fix our roads, it’s going to hurt business in our state,” Lucas said.

“We don’t want to be the General Assembly that turns the tide and starts running jobs out of South Carolina instead of bringing jobs into South Carolina.”

Lucas also said lawmakers have to address a crisis in the pension program for state employees.

The state has an unfunded pension liability of $12 billion over 30 years, he said, and that assumes an unrealistic rate of return on investments of 7.5 percent.

Freshman Sen. William Timmons of Greenville, one of several politicians in the audience at the Poinsett Club, told UBJ he wants to tie any new money for roads to reforms at the state Department of Transportation.

Timmons said he’d put the DOT entirely under the authority of the governor and abolish the S.C. Transportation Infrastructure Bank, which funds road and bridge projects outside of normal DOT operations.

The Infrastructure Bank “was created to build the Ravenel Bridge, and I don’t know if you’ve been to Charleston recently, but it’s built,” Timmons said.

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