Lexington County Councilman Ned Tolar (R-6) has proposed two plans to fund road improvements in the county. According to The State newspaper, Tolar is looking to impose “impact fees” on new residential development and build a ”10-to 12-mile toll road linking I-20 to the I-26/I-77 intersection near the Congaree River in Richland County – stretching across Red Bank to Dixiana – to route traffic away from Malfunction Junction.”
In the article, Tolar is quoted as saying “We’ve got to look at other ways to pay for roads. Fees are one way of asking people coming in to help pay for solving problems that new development increases.”
There is quite a lot wrong with what Tolar is trying to do and there are revelations in his publicly stated agenda.
When Councilman Tolar says we have to look at “other ways to pay for roads,” he means other than a sales tax. Tolar ran as the taxpayer candidate in 2014. “I’m running for Lexington County Council because we badly need someone on County Council who will stand up for the taxpayers” he wrote on his campaign website. Based on his new proposals, Councilman Tolar must think the taxpayers are stupid.
First, the obvious; government “fees” and tolls are taxes. They are monies paid to the government for services. A tax is “a compulsory contribution to state revenue, levied by the government on workers’ income and business profits or added to the cost of some goods, services, and transactions.”
In a letter then-candidate Tolar wrote to the Council, he said “… the public trust dictates that the county be as upfront and forthcoming as possible about all aspects of this increase, so that the citizens are as informed as possible and the referendum results reflect the true will of the people.”
Tolar himself avoided being “as upfront and forthcoming as possible about all aspects of this increase” by not calling his ideas what they really are – tax increases.
The “impact fee” Councilman Tolar recommends is no more than a new, one-time property tax that will, itself, have virtually no “impact” on solving road problems. According to the report, Tolar believes $2,500 is a “reasonable” amount to add to the price of a new home in the county. “If that amount were adopted,” reads the article, “it would have produced $5.4 million last year for roads.” Although, as noted, that is roughly twice the county revenue from state gas taxes, it is far too little to be considered a viable revenue flow for such a massive undertaking as road improvements. Even if commercial “impact fees” were added, which Tolar did not address, this new property tax is woefully inadequate. Last year, according to the report, there were 232 approved business project last year. If the “impact fee” for each averaged $10,000, quadruple that of a residence, it would add but $2,320,000 to the county treasury.
Ah, but wait! Councilman Tolar’s plan “would allow some revenue to be used for drainage improvements in flood-prone areas, long wanted by homeowners in Irmo and St. Andrews.”
The Tolar proposal would NOT be exclusively for road improvements. It is certainly true that drainage problems must be addressed, but wasn’t one of the major complaints about the 2014 proposed sales tax increase that the money was going for things other than roads? That was one of Tolar’s campaign points. One might also question why the buyer of a new home in Batesburg-Leesville should pay to fix drainage problems in the more affluent Irmo/St. Andrews area, but that’s another discussion for another day.
As inane as the “impact fee” on new homes might be, even more absurd is Tolar’s idea for a toll road connecting I-26 and I-20.
It should be noted that this idea would run an interstate spur across two or three council districts, none of which are Tolar’s. This is noteworthy for reasons to be addressed.
The report references an estimate by Ron Patton, deputy secretary for intermodal planning at the state Department of Transportation that the cost of the 10-12 mile toll road would be $40-60 million per mile. At $50 million for 10 miles, the Tolar Expressway would cost $500 million – a half a billion dollars!
Does Councilman Tolar believe the tolls for this road would/could/should pay for the construction of the highway? The only relevant toll road in South Carolina is the Southern Connector in the upstate. The toll rate for it runs between $1.00 and $3.50 – one way – depending on entry and exit points. To work from an average, let’s say each toll will cost $2.25. The road would need to collect 222,222,222 individual tolls to recover JUST the cost of the construction ($500m). If two million tolls were paid each year, it would take – 111 years to pay it off. Of course, that doesn’t include the operating costs for toll booths, etc. It also does NOT help with road improvements elsewhere in the county.
Further, from where will the initial capital for construction come? Does Councilman Tolar believe we can get a good faith line of credit from construction companies that will pay off in over a century?
As mentioned earlier, there is significance to the route of this expressway. The Councilman seems to be unconcerned about the hundreds of homes, dozens of businesses and scores of private properties that will be taken by eminent domain to build his highway. The fact that none of that confiscation would happen in his district might explain his willingness to sacrifice the property of others.
It has been pointed out that it would take twenty (20) years to make this expressway happen. How much more will Lexington County grow in those twenty years? How relevant will the expressway be by then? In all likelihood, children born the day ground would be broken would not see completion until they graduate college.
There is also this: ‘It’s too soon to discuss what the toll would be, but it would expire once the project is paid off, Tolar said.” One of the arguments made by anti-tax advocates like Ned Tolar is that “once a tax is imposed, it never goes away.” Based on the calculations above, none of us would likely live to see the end of the expressway toll, but even so, it’s disingenuous for a “taxpayer watchdog” like Tolar to make such a claim.
Even more disturbing is that Councilman Tolar, while vehemently opposing tax increases, wanted the state to raise the gasoline tax. Sources have told me that Tolar appealed to a member of the state legislature to “pass the tax” when it was being debated last year. Whether he was trying to avoid addressing the issue on the county level or he was just being tax-friendly, the Councilman was not being honest to his contrived image as a “taxpayer watchdog.” Or, maybe that’s what he meant when he said “We need to be creative in finding ways to get things done.”
Finally, then-candidate Tolar lamented a lack of response to a letter he had written the Council. “Our county politicians must show greater respect toward those whose hard-earned dollars they covet. If they continue to display a casual attitude toward tax increases, they have only themselves to blame when voters say “no” this fall.”
A week ago, I sent Councilman Tolar the following email. Although I do not reside in his district, I am a county constituent. I have gotten no response.
Today’s State paper ran a story that included your idea for a toll road to be built “from Red Bank to Dixiana.” In Tolar’s plan, building a road stretching 10-12 miles would be accomplished through a public-private partnership whose design is to be determined. The road would ease congestion by providing a way around the I-20/I-26 intersection – nicknamed Malfunction Junction – that’s a major bottleneck for commuters and cargo haulers.
“It would remedy problems there by giving traffic a shortcut,” Tolar said.
Could you please elaborate, especially for the following:
- How would a new road between these two points (Red Bank to Dixiana) relieve traffic through Lexington on a north/South route on or to I-26?
- According to the estimates noted in the article, that one highway would cost a half a billion dollars. How can that be justified when current roads are in such disrepair?
- You ran for office in a no new tax platform. Isn’t a toll a tax?
- To accomplish this toll road, eminent domain would have to be enacted on hundreds of homes and dozens of businesses and private properties. Do you believe this can be justified?
- The article also indicated it would take 20 or more years to complete the project. Is that too long for solutions already decades overdue?
- In the article you are noted as having said the toll would expire once the project was paid off. When that same promise was made regarding a “hospitality tax” in the Town of Lexington, certain groups decried the notion saying politicians never lift taxes. That same complaint is sure to resurface on your proposal. How would you respond?