With nearly $1 billion surprlus, DOT can do better on U.S. 501

Posted by Michael Smith on Jan. 18, 2012 at 2:02 p.m.

While attending a workshop for the media earlier this month, I was blown away that the state was expecting a nearly $1 billion surplus in 2012.

It was at this same workshop a year earlier that state lawmakers – many wearing grim faces – debated over how to address an $800 million shortfall.

A $1.8 billion swing is nothing to sneeze at. Whereas we were once destitute, the state appears to be on firm financial footing heading into the budget writing season.

So imagine my surprise and frustration when I learned that the S.C. Department of Transportation planned to postpone the partial widening of U.S. 501 until 2013, citing lack of resources.

It’s bad enough this is occurring in a windfall year. What’s worse, the money already exists. Federal money is paying for the $2 million project.

The S.C. DOT’s money problems troubles have been well documented in other media reports.

Even Curtis Loftis, the state’s treasury secretary, has blasted the agency, questioning why there are budget shortfalls resulting in contractors not getting paid. Loftis went as far as to accuse the S.C. DOT of only having $3 in one of its prime bank accounts, according to a news release from the treasurer’s office.

Regardless of who’s to blame, government often uses “budget cuts” or “lack of resources” to justify just about anything.

In the 1990s, when the economy was booming, the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control cited “dwindling resources” as why mandatory hotel room health inspections were discontinued.

It should be noted that the Grand Strand’s tourism industry generates about $5 billion in revenues, nearly as much as the entire state’s $5.1 billion budget in 2011. Sizeable chunks of that $5 billion are sent to Columbia in the form of taxes and fees.

If it wasn’t for the Grand Strand, South Carolina would’ve been in even more dire straits in 2011 than it was. The Grand Strand bailed out Columbia¬† the same way the Federal Government bailed out banks.

Now that conditions are improving, the state can thank the Strand as well. While it’s dubious the Myrtle Beach tourism tax had anything to do with it – as some local leaders assert – the revitalization of Grand Strand tourism sure did contribute to the state’s economic recovery.

It’s about time state government stops leaning on budget cuts like a crutch and live up to their promises. The state should not only spend the money where it’s most needed, but also where most of it is generated.

And that place is right here in Horry County.


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