Rep. Gary Simrill on a solution for DOT’s finances

Some major contractors doing road work in South Carolina are struggling to pay their employees. State lawmakers told Eyewitness News that the reason is a holdup of millions of dollars in federal money.

The South Carolina Department of Transportation is behind on payments to these contractors, but Eyewitness News has learned that state officials say the real problem is in Washington, not Columbia.

It’s not clear how much money is owed, or how many contractors haven’t been paid. However, some payments are weeks and even months overdue.

State Rep. Gary Simrill is hearing some of the complaints.

“I’ve talked to businesses that say they’re going to have to close their doors or start firing people, because they literally can’t operate,” Simrill said.

Much of the budget of the state DOT is paid through reimbursement from the federal government. The state took on a large number of road projects this summer, and those reimbursement dollars have been delayed.

DOT spokesman Pete Poore said the state is now working with individual companies to try and repay them quickly, and urging Washington to speed up its payments to the state.

Poore said $28 million in federal money was expected Monday to help the agency pay its bills, and millions more in the coming weeks.
However, Simrill said the state has the money to pay the contractors now by transferring the money from a reserve fund immediately, then replacing it when the reimbursement check comes in from Washington.

“This is not an agency that’s running in the red. The money’s there,” he said.

He said anyone who does business with the state government should not have to face such a crisis that could cost jobs.

“There is no reason that these contractors who are hiring people, paying people, folks with meals that need to be on the table, who have legitimately worked, for them to be waiting like they’re doing now,” he said.

Every gallon of gas sold in South Carolina includes a 16-cent state tax. That money is used to fund DOT road projects. The tax hasn’t been raised in 25 years, but most lawmakers do not favor an increase.

Simrill believes a long-term solution is more accountability between Washington and South Carolina, not a higher tax burden.

Courtesy of WSOCTV.com

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