By Barney Blakeney
Everyone knows that the state’s roads and highways desperately need repair. But how repairs are funded and who funds it prompts scrutiny. Despite the need, the weight of funding public projects often means an additional financial burden on low income wage earners. A gas tax that would provide funding for roads also could mean additional transportation costs to those who could least afford it. Local legislators say that cost will be mitigated.
S.C. legislators May 10 approved a plan to provide $600 million a year over the next six years for roads repair and maintenance. That money will be paid into the system by motorists at the gas pumps and through vehicle fees. And of course, the cost will be passed down to those who depend on public transportation as well. For low income wage earners who already pay proportionately more of their income for housing and transportation, the increased costs could be more burden than benefit.
Hollywood Rep. Robert Brown said legislators considered the impact increased transportation costs would have on those constituents and built some mitigating conditions into the legislation. Everyone needs good safe roads and South Carolina’s gas taxes which contribute to their repair and maintenance are among the nation’s lowest, but the state’s roads are the nation’s fifth worse, said State Rep. Wendell Gilliard.
Legislators considered the disproportionate impact another tax might mean for low wage earners and adopted an all too rare approach to addressing the needs of working class constituents – one that not only mitigates the disproportionate impact of an increased tax, but one that also will provide some economic benefits.
Brown said the plan includes earned income tax credits to individuals and married couples and for college tuition. Those are huge benefits that may help offset increased transportation costs for workers. But additionally, the plan will mean jobs and increased business opportunities, Brown said.
”It’s a tax and we’ll feel the pinch, but it’s also an opportunity for minority owned businesses who can participate in the increased activity. I’ve got two of them in my district,” Brown exclaimed. “This is going to mean contracts for some minority businesses and jobs for a lot of people like truck drivers and others. Minority businesses may only get small portions of the business that will increase each year as the funding increases, but there’s going to be enough pie for everybody to get a piece and enough work to be done so that minority businesses will get their share. It’s not all going to come at once, but we all should benefit,” he said.
Gilliard added that legislators throughout the duration of the project will have to keep their eyes open to insure that the jobs and business opportunities created have a positive impact in the Black community. “Like everything else, we’ll have to monitor things,” he said.