Cleary drives effort to improve roads

  • Thursday, July 10, 2014

Sen. Ray Cleary rides a tough road – and his goal is to make sure the rest of us have a an easier time on ours.

Since becoming “the road guy” in 2013, Cleary has been working to save the state’s roads with little money and in a way, a lack of assistance.

A move to raise the gas tax has been shot down before it even got started.

“When 34 percent of the gas tax comes from out of state, why would we want to put the burden on South Carolinians?” he questioned.

An attempt to raise driver’s license fees similarly has fallen into a black hole of the threat of a gubernatorial veto. “We have the lowest license fee in the nation,” Cleary noted.

“Even though we have money going into our roads, we are falling behind,” he said recently.

“We need $1.4 billion for roads every year.”

And that amount could still not be enough, especially if federal lawmakers fail to extend the transportation bill.

“We get our money from the feds every two weeks,” Cleary said.

And the state, despite promises from Columbia, is unlikely to come up with enough money to handle increasing demands on roads. “Before this winter’s storms, about 38 percent of the roads were listed as ‘good.’ After the storms, that number dropped to 15 percent,” Cleary said. “And it takes a heck of a lot more money to raise a road’s status from poor to good than it does from fair to good.”

He said that the general fund is not the place to seek road money either.

About 40 percent of the state’s budget money goes to health and human services and 30 percent goes to K-12 education, areas unlikely to face cuts.

“That leaves about $6.1 billion to fund every other state agency – police, DNR, DHEC, the colleges.

I can’t see us shutting down every other state department to get the money for roads,” Cleary said.

Gov. Nikki Haley has said she plans to announce her ideas to fund the crumbling infrastructure in January, but Cleary said the state’s roads can’t wait for that.

“We need to know what her plan is now, so we can begin working on legislation, so we can see what we need to do,” he said. “But mostly we need honest answers.”

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