The Roads Bill Amendment

The following is the amendment to the roads bill that the House adopted yesterday. I voted in favor of it.

The bill is still alive and kicking though reports of its death have been greatly exaggerated as Mark Twain might say.

3579 House Amendment #1 – Strike All and Insert

Section 1

All Highway Commissioners are appointed by the Governor, 7 district and 1 state-wide

Keeps the qualifications for Commissioners removed in senate version

Requires that “other demographic factors such as residence in rural or urban areas” be considered

Advice and consent of General Assembly by a roll call vote of both bodies

Commissioners serve four year terms, no more than two consecutive terms, and may not serve more than 12 years, regardless of when the term is/was served (retroactive)

Section 2

Commission appoints a Secretary of Transportation with Advice/Consent of General Assembly by a roll call vote of both bodies

Secretary serves at the pleasure of the Commission

Sections 3

Places the SCDOT Chief Internal Auditor under the State Auditor

Sections 4

Repeals the JTRC code sections and eliminates the Committee

Section 5

Sections 1-4 take effect on July 1, 2016

Members serving on the Commission on June 30, 2016 shall continue to serve until their current term expires, and until their successor is appointed and confirmed
Vacancies are filled by appointment of the Governor, and serve until the end of that unexpired term
Any eligible commissioner may be reappointed by Governor on or after June 30, 2016

Section 6

Before any loan or financial assistance can be provided by the SIB, the board must submit the decision to the DOT Commission for approval, rejection, or a request for additional information from the SIB Board

Does not relate to any payment or contractual obligations that the DOT has to the bank that are pledged to any bonds issued by the bank

Section 7

SIB cannot provide financial assistance for any project below $25 M

Section 8

SIB must follow the Act 114 prioritization criteria
A Joint Resolution for a single, specific project can override this provision

Section 9

Transfers remaining $65 M of auto sales tax revenues from the general fund to the State Highway Fund at the Department of Transportation

Section 10

Except where otherwise provided, this act takes effect on July 1, 2016

The following is what the Senate sent to us after sitting on the bill for a year. Senate Passed version of H-3579 –

Section 1

Commissioners are appointed by the Governor, 7 district and 1 state-wide, with Advice and Consent of the Senate
State-wide appointment serves as Chairman

Requires that “other demographic factors such as residence in rural or urban areas” be considered

Commissioners serve four year terms which expire December 31 of the appropriate year

Commissioners may serve in a hold-over capacity for a maximum of 5 months

Commissioners serve out remainder of current terms

Section 2

Commission appoints a Secretary of Transportation with consultation and approval of the Governor, must have Advice/Consent of the Senate

Section 3

Before any loan or financial assistance can be provided by the SIB, the board must submit the decision to the DOT Commission for approval, rejection, or a request for additional information from the SIB Board

Does not relate to any payment or contractual obligations that the DOT has to the bank that are pledged to any bonds issued by the bank

Section 4

General Assembly must appropriate $400 M to the State Highway Fund

Does not specify recurring/non-recurring

Funds must be contained in W&Ms, House, SFC, Senate and Conference Report of the Appropriations Bill.

The SCDOT Chicken Run

My grandmother never wrung the necks of her chickens. She used a hatchet.

Modern urban chicken aficionados, the ones with high-class chicken coops and fancy French chickens, consider the hatchet method more humane than neck wringing or so I hear. Maybe that advice came from Martha Stewart – learned while she was down on the prison farm.

I witnessed my grandmother’s hatchet skills when I was a young boy. My grandparents farm was just up the road and I was a frequent visitor, especially after seeing this pre-culinary violence.

The whole farmyard stood larger than life to my young eyes. My grandfather, a World War One veteran and follower of the old ways, cut timber from the woods, milled it, cured it and built the two-story farmhouse along with a barn, woodshed, corn crib, chicken house and a washhouse.

A particular fascination for me was the washhouse. It had a big room for, I presume, washing even though I remember it being used to put up vegetables and store a vast collection of glassware and bottles. It also had a feed room, tool room, curing room and attached wagon shed – wonderful places to pretend.

After the building was done, my grandparents scattered fig, pear and plum trees along with grape and scuppernong vines throughout the yard. It was through this maze of fruitful delight that headless chickens ran flailing their blood over the ground like some pagan fertility rite.

Speaking of spring fertility rites, the House finished debating the annual state budget a couple of weeks ago. Just before we began debate, the Senate amended and sent back to us a simplified version of our transportation bill. You remember – the comprehensive bill we passed last year to fix our roads. The bill, though not perfect, contained the needed elements of reform. The Senate merely had to give them the same consideration that the House did.

Instead, the Senate’s version requires the state’s General Fund to transfer $400 million of recurring income and sales taxes to SCDOT every year. It also modestly changes the SCDOT’s governance structure. They gave the Governor appointment power to choose commissioners with the advice and consent of the Senate. After Senate approval, the commissioners appoint a Secretary of Transportation who serves on the Governor’s cabinet.

Why not just let the Governor pick her own Secretary of Transportation subject to the General Assembly’s approval of qualifications and rid us of the Commission?

In another act of inexplicability, the Governor demanded that the House concur with the Senate version posthaste. In other words, she wanted us to agree with the Senate version without amending it and before we debated the budget. The House refused.

Meanwhile, the Legislative Audit Council was wrapping up their independent audit of SCDOT. Their 350-page audit, released this week, makes for a sobering read. One might think that the Senate and the Governor would have waited for its release before demanding concurrence from the House, but I could not comment on their intent.

The audit report starts with SCDOT’s governance issues. From page 17 of the audit:

• It is unclear whether the Secretary of Transportation or the Commission is the ultimate governing authority of the department.

• We cannot determine how much value the Commission adds to SCDOT processes.

• The SCDOT internal auditing function is ineffective due to the impaired independence of the chief internal auditor.

• A number of employees do not meet the minimum qualifications for their job classifications and were not granted equivalencies by the Division of State Human Resources.

• The department does not adequately measure and report on key performance indicators that affect the public.

• Internal management policies have led to the questionable use of public resources.

• There is considerable room for improvement to SCDOT’s strategic direction plan and performance measures.

• There are a number of instances in which the department has not appropriately collected, maintained, used, or shared data.

They could have just said that the commissioners have been running around in recent years like chickens with their heads cut off flailing money at random projects while blindly leading the department and our roads to destruction.

The House has before it a hatchet – this amended transportation bill – that can be used to fix the governance problems reported in the audit. We just need the Senate and the Governor to help us act humanely and make a clean cut of it.

Many Thanks

Many thanks to the citizens of Blue Ridge, Greer and Taylors who have given me the opportunity to represent them again in the South Carolina House for the next two years.

The two week filing period closed yesterday and no other candidate filed to represent District 18.

Unless a write-in candidate opposes me in November and Providence allows, I will serve my constituents in 2017 and 2018 as I have in years past – with a consistent and independent conservatism.

$415 Million of Surplus Revenue Applied to Road Repair

(Columbia, SC) – House Speaker Jay Lucas (District 65-Darlington) issued the following statement after the House passed a series of amendments to appropriate an additional $415 million to DOT for FY2016-17. The breakdown of the funds includes giving $365 million to the SCDOT’s State Highway Fund and a $50 million increase to County Transportation Committees (CTCs).

“Over the past three years, the House has set aside over $1 billion in additional general fund revenue for road repair. This year we did not change course and once again prioritized infrastructure funding by appropriating an additional $415 million to fix our roads. A majority of South Carolina drivers and businesses depend upon local routes and highways for everyday use. More than half of these roads are in critical need of maintenance or repair. To address this problem, the House directed an overwhelming majority of the $415 million towards our primary road system. We stand ready to work with Secretary Christy Hall so that we can keep South Carolina drivers safe and improve the condition of our deteriorating infrastructure.”

Standing For Election – 2016

After much thought, I am standing for election to another term in the South Carolina House. Representing Blue Ridge, Greer and Taylors remains an honor and a responsibility that I do not take lightly.

When you elected me in the June 2008 primary, we could never have predicted the coming stock market crash, widespread unemployment, huge drop in tax collections, massive cuts to our state budget, attempted impeachment of Gov. Sanford, lingering recession, resignation of the Lt. Governor, our Senate’s leadership crisis, resignation of the Speaker of the House, and countless other smaller events that have slowed reform and renewal of our state government’s core functions.

As those events rolled over us, I voted in a conservative manner on the issues as they arose. I also offered realistic conservative solutions to existing problems before they became crises – problems such as tax reform, infrastructure renewal and our underfunded state retirement plan for state workers.

These days, the two standing committees on which I serve – Education and Public Works Committee and Legislative Oversight Committee – reveal accelerating problems in our educational systems and other state agencies. Uneven student achievement in our k-12 system, huge tuition increases in our college system, lack of oversight in DHEC, DSS, and DJJ. The list goes on.

Thankfully, we have new leadership in the House committed to solving these problems and creating the small yet efficient state government that has been promised for years. If elected again, I believe that I can have an impact on those reforms.

I remain, as I have from the beginning, conservative in my voting record, devoted to our Constitution, protective of our First and Second Amendment rights, and defender of the unborn. As importantly, I remain committed to this beautiful place that we call South Carolina and especially to my neighbors in Blue Ridge, Greer and Taylors.

I would appreciate your support in the June 14th primary.

Tommy Stringer