By Paul Gable
An interesting debate on road maintenance funding appears to be forming in the SC General Assembly that could have ramifications for coastal Horry County.
Estimates in Columbia project the state needs over $1 billion annually of new revenue to fix and maintain the state’s crumbling road system.
A bill has been introduced to raise the gas tax by 10 cents over a period of five years, along with other fee increases on things like automobile registrations, automobile purchases and the like. That bill, if passed, is estimated to contribute approximately $600 million per year when fully implemented.
An increase in the gas tax gets the state about 50% toward its goal. How to get the rest of the way? Casino gambling at the coast with the tax and fee revenue generated going back to Columbia to fund road maintenance.
The desire for casino gambling has never left the minds of certain players along the Grand Strand.
In 2009, this group put its initial support behind Gresham Barrett in the governor’s race. Remember the $85,000 funneled to Barrett that was part of Coastal Kickback?
But Barrett lost to Nikki Haley and talk of casino gambling faded into the background. Now Haley is gone and new Gov. Henry McMaster is, reportedly, at least willing to listen to the arguments for signing a casino gambling bill if it passed by the General Assembly.
According to our sources, at five different local sites are being discussed for possible casinos: the old Myrtle Square Mall site, what is called the South Mixed Use District (part of the Municipal Improvement District being planned in Myrtle Beach), a site near the intersection of S.C. 22 and S.C. 31, a site on S.C. 9 and the former Hard Rock Park site.
Myrtle Beach mayor John Rhodes’ apparent pivot away, in media reports last week, from hopes of Chinese investment money coming to the county adds to the question of whether casino gambling is back in the minds of local leaders. Just look at the above sites for the answer.
But, casino gambling is not necessarily the answer to rejuvenating the local economy. One only has to look at the history of Atlantic City to understand.
Atlantic City was a rundown, crime ridden city before the casinos came and remains so today. All the money went to the state of New Jersey and Atlantic City was left with the problems. (There is now a move in the NJ state legislature to open two casinos across the river from New York City to fund a bailout of Atlantic City).
An increased gas tax and casino gambling may provide revenue for road maintenance. They won’t necessarily do anything for the local economy.