(The Center Square) – The South Carolina Department of Transportation (DOT) could lose as much as $293 million in gas and car sales tax revenue over the next two years because of the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, the agency does not plan to stop current construction projects.
DOT Director of Communications Pete Poore said revenue is projected to be down $78 million between April and June 30.
"Financial people were planning for this because traffic volumes were down," Poore said in an interview with The Center Square. "Traffic began dropping in early March, when the governor issued the stay at home order and people started working from home."
Poore said that meant people weren't buying as much fuel and not much revenue was being generated.
"What Secretary [Christy] Hall did to balance that $78 million was to make 12 percent cuts in the agency's operations," Poor said. "That means travel was discontinued, no purchases of office machines, new vehicles, copy paper, things like that. It was all cut back 12 percent."
Poore said no construction projects that were underway were stopped.
"Life goes on, and hard hats, machinery, cones, construction are all continuing," Poore said. "There's no stopping that. We will make another projection in July and see where we are at that point."
Poore said the agency does not fear it is going to have to stop construction.
"What we're going to have to do is what we do anyway, which is to manage our cash flow and see what’s in the checkbook and take a look at projects up for bids," Poore said. "And there will be contracts put out for bid, but how many needs to be determined. SCDOT will go forward with the construction program."
Poore said raising taxes beyond what's already is place is not on the table.
"The tax goes up two more cents on July 1, which is year four of six in the state sales tax – that began in 2017," Poore said. "That 12 cents total all goes into the infrastructure maintenance fund, which is only used for the 10-year plan to repair roads, replace bridges, improvements through the rural road safety program and interstate improvement."
Poore said those four programs are receiving a sustainable revenue source by that increase.
"We are hopeful the shortfall in traffic volume, which we see the gap closing, and we hope the shortfall in revenue will also catch up," Poore said. "We don't know when that will happen, but we're going to be conservative.
Poore said it's going to be a month-to-month process to analyze what's going on.
"No one can say beyond June 30 where we’re going to be," Poore said. "We've had to slow down a little bit, but the good news is that any project already under construction will not stop. They're all funded."