South Carolina Struggles to Pay Its Road Bills
By Daniel C. Vock, Staff Writer
South Carolina transportation officials say they now are caught up on their bills, after a cash crunch that delayed payments to vendors and led the state to borrow road money from the federal government. But politically and financially, the fallout continues.
The state took a $52 million advance from the Federal Highway Administration by collecting a whole year's worth of payments. South Carolina needed the money after it fell behind in paying its road bills.
The administration of Governor Nikki Haley, a Republican, turned to Washington rather than seek out a private line of credit . It was an unusual move for a governor who has spurned federal help before, choosing, for example, to forgo federal money to roll out a new health insurance exchange and turning away $144 million to fund schools .
The federal loan helped South Carolina catch up on its bills; now, none of its bills are more than a month old, reports The Associated Press . But, the wire service notes, the state is also putting off $24 million in small projects — such as resurfacing and repainting — over the next two months to conserve cash.
The state ran out of road money because of gas tax revenues have been low and the state Department of Transportation "being overly ambitious in seeking to get road work done," reports The State in Columbia. Rising petroleum prices also made the construction work more expensive, state officials said.
Legislators want to take a closer look at the troubles at the Department of Transportation and a state Senate panel will hold hearings this week to find out more, writes The (Charleston) Post and Courier . The "call for a legislative fact-finding mission," the paper notes, "comes four years after major mismanagement at the agency led to a head-to-toe overhaul amid allegations that South Carolina roads were being built based on political clout rather than actual need."
Larry Grooms, the Republican chairman of the Senate transportation committee, suggested that the same pattern may be re-emerging under Haley's administration, the paper reported. Haley also clashed with another Republican, state Treasurer Curtis Loftus, who wanted to speed payments to contractors using private loans before the state sought federal help, the Post and Courier noted in an earlier story .
Of course, Haley already butted heads with Republican legislators this summer when she tried unsuccessfully to call them back to a special session to debate several of her ideas that lawmakers had not passed.