Just in case you thought that proposals regarding South Carolina’s transportation system couldn’t get any worse, this week was chock full of waste and corruption. First, a Spartanburg-based group has called for the construction of a taxpayer-funded high-speed passenger rail train (a la Amtrak) to connect Greenville and Charleston. In addition, a South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) Commissioner got busted for hosting a secret meeting to discuss the potential construction of a controversial new highway.
Frank Ezell, leader of the South Carolina Passenger Rail Consortium, truly believes two trains daily could be filled to capacity. We’ve got news for Mr. Ezell – the existing government-run system, AMTRAK, runs a hefty deficit every year when it travels to big cities below capacity. Expanding a similar model in South Carolina will guarantee two things: empty passenger cars and a gas tax hike.
In FY2014, AMTRAK received federal subsidies to the tune of $1.39 billion (with a “b”) – and that’s just one year! When I worked for Congressman Duncan in Washington, DC, I regularly compared AMTRAK’s prices to commercial airlines. The government-subsidized train ticket was still more expensive than a flight home to Greenville. So, not only is the taxpayer forking over a billion dollars to this boondoggle (not counting some state and local contributions), government train prices still were not able to compete with a faster mode of transportation.
Americans for Prosperity – South Carolina is concerned that the South Carolina Passenger Rail Consortium, made up of powerful lobbyists and bureaucrats, may be gaining traction in the Statehouse. The gas tax hike is on fast track status in the Senate when they return in January, and the lobbying group likely sees an opportunity to “cash-in” when more of our money heads to Columbia.
Sadly, expensive trains are less of a concern than the other news that broke this week. The Vice-Chairman of the South Carolina Department of Transportation Commission, Mike Wooten, who recently made headlines for attempting to block auditors from inspecting fraud within the SCDOT, held a secret, closed-door meeting with Brad Dean, the head of the Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce (another taxpayer-funded entity) to discuss the construction of a controversial new highway. Best yet, they invited former state representative, Nelson Hardwick (R-Surfside Beach) for his expertise. You may remember Hardwick as the guy who suddenly retired this legislative session amid sexual harassment allegations.
The reason for secrecy: Wooten said he didn’t want “to give the intervening groups time to produce the drivel they will put out questioning the results.” Well, of course he didn’t. Their expensive “study” showed that the preferred methodology to pay for the project is nothing more than a drop in the bucket compared to the total cost.
Unfortunately this is the mental model of many South Carolina politicians and bureaucrats. They believe decisions should be made in secret, smoke-filled rooms without public input.
That’s why we’re advocating for common sense transportation reforms that would end the secrecy and force the politicians to spend our hard-earned money more transparently, efficiently and effectively. Call your state representatives today and urge them to sign on to our reform agenda. Remem