'Hidden tax' outweighs gas tax


This is part of an editorial that appeared in Wednesday's edition of The Charleston Post and Courier.

Senate opponents of a gas tax increase to help pay for road and bridge improvements are once again threatening to undermine a bill to raise money for the long-overdue work. A replay of last year's filibuster is expected, and while a majority of the Senate would likely vote for a plan to raise the gas tax 12-cents a gallon over the next six years, the margin might not be enough to override a gubernatorial veto.

And when Gov. Henry McMaster says that a gas tax increase should be only a "last resort" and that citizens already are taxed enough, it certainly sounds like the prelude to a veto. Given the acknowledged need for road funding, South Carolinians should expect responsible leadership from Mr. McMaster.

The cost of a gas tax hike envisioned by the Senate plan is estimated at an average of $60 a year for state motorists (about 30 percent of the tax is paid by out-of-state drivers). Legislative naysayers should compare that figure to the far higher costs of auto repairs, congestion and safety hazards associated with the inadequacy of state roads and bridges.

An annual report from TRIP, a national transportation research group based in Washington, D.C., puts the price tag for those hidden costs at an incredible $1,850 a year for residents of the Charleston metropolitan area. Statewide the overall cost is assessed at $5.4 billion.

The $1,850 per year total includes the added safety and congestion-related costs imposed by poor road conditions and traffic-clogged highways. But even the safest Charleston area drivers who never travel at peak traffic hours can expect a whopping $452 per year due to "accelerated vehicle depreciation, additional repair costs, increased fuel consumption and tire wear."

In other words, the "hidden tax" of poor roads costs even the best drivers at least seven times as much as increasing the gas tax and about 30 times more when all economic impacts are factored in.

The DOT currently spends about $415 million annually on road repairs and reconstruction, or less than half of what the DOT says is needed to do the work.

The report notes that 29 percent of urban roadways are in poor condition; 35 percent in mediocre condition; 19 percent in fair condition and 17 percent in good condition.

Meanwhile, traffic congestion in the state's five urban areas has increased by 10 percent in the last three years. While road improvements could ease the situation, TRIP also cites the importance of transit improvements.

Problems associated with road conditions are increased traffic-related injury and death, and lower economic growth. Three-fourths of the state's goods are carried by trucks.

The TRIP report is a reminder that there are hidden taxes in the legislative opposition to an overdue hike in the gas tax - which was last increased 30 years ago. Based on the latest data, the penny-wise, pound-foolish approach is costing residents substantially more than a gas tax increase. Obstructionists in the Statehouse should heed the findings.

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In "Leakgate Finds Its Joe McCarthy," The Wall Street Journal's Holman Jenkins writes, "On Trump-Russia links, Rep. Schiff tries to fool the public with randomness."

If Donald Trump tweeted his accusations about President Obama wiretapping Trump Tower to get the media off his alleged ties to Russia, then Democrats at Monday's hearing of the House Intelligence Committee used those same tweets to distract from their lack of goods on alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.

Adam Schiff, the California Democrat and ranking member, not once but twice on "Meet the Press" touted "circumstantial evidence of collusion."

A congressman with a modest profile, Mr. Schiff has been working hard ever since to become the public face - not to say the Joe McCarthy - of this witch hunt.

This is his main chance. It's supposedly in his wheelhouse because, 27 years ago, he led the Justice Department's effort to put a sad sack FBI agent in jail over his affair with an equally pathetic Soviet agent.

Again, who really benefits from his relentless campaign of disparagement against Mr. Trump?

The answer is obviously Mr. Schiff - but also Mr. Putin.

In truth, a U.S. president can't do much for Mr. Putin, except for one thing: give him a convenient enemy. The breadth of opinion in support of this proposition is truly impressive.

Notable & Quotable is compiled by Graham Osteen. Contact him at