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As campaigning resumes, Democrat James Smith is using washed out roads, caused by widespread flooding spawned by Hurricane Florence, to take a swipe at Republican Gov. Henry McMaster over infrastructure funding.
Both candidates earlier this week resumed their campaigns for governor, a little more than a week after suspending their election bids as Florence crept toward the S.C. coast.
On Wednesday, the same day that McMaster announced he will resume a limited campaign schedule ahead of the Nov. 6 election, Smith used road flooding to criticize McMaster for vetoing a bipartisan gas-tax increase. The Republican governor’s veto was overridden by the GOP-controlled Legislature.
Smith said Friday that dramatic photos of washed out roads swallowing vehicles are a culmination of decades of neglect, a lack of infrastructure spending and a failure of leadership by McMaster.
“The condition of our infrastructure should be a concern of every South Carolinian, and South Carolina deserves leadership that is going to fix our roads,” Smith said. “They are lousy and … dam failures are a real concern, and they have life-and-death implications.”
If elected, Smith said he “will take responsibility for maintaining our state’s infrastructure,” pushing plans that prioritize repairs to the state’s closed and load-restricted bridges and areas that repeatedly flood.
“A veto is not a plan,” Smith said , referring to McMaster. “When the next event occurs, we are going to be better prepared to deal with it.”
McMaster has argued the state has enough money to repair its roads — an argument overwhelmingly rejected by the majority of legislators in his own party — but that money has been misspent. Small businesses, young people and seniors will be hardest hit by a tax increase, he has argued.
The governor’s campaign accuses Smith of politicizing a natural disaster that has claimed at least nine lives in the state. They add Smith has presented no evidence that a shortage of money is responsible for roads washing out in a historic, 1,000-year flood.
Asked for comment, a S.C. Transportation Department spokesman pointed to that agency’s 10-year plan, which calls for addressing the “worst-of-the worst” roads by improving 100 miles a year and replacing about half of the state’s 750 structurally deficient bridges.
S.C. Transportation director Christy Hall said Friday the state has been approved, at McMaster’s request, for $8 million in Federal Highway Administration “quick release” emergency money. That money will allow the Transportation Department to accelerate repair work in areas where roads have been damaged.
Even some advocates of the higher gas tax say no amount of added money could have prevented Florence’s road damages.
“Any road in the state could collapse because of a natural disaster, and it’s probably unreasonable for us to expect every road and bridge in the state to be built to withstand every possible, unforeseen event,” said Rick Todd, chief executive of the S.C. Trucking Association, which supported increasing the gas tax. “I would not be surprised, with the amount of water we’re experiencing, that we would have other infrastructure failures, which I wouldn’t attribute to the lack of resources but … acts of God.”
While Smith is making an issue of road funding, McMaster has been in the media spotlight, holding televised briefings on the state’s storm preparations and responses.
The governor also went on a helicopter tour Monday of the flood-damaged Pee Dee. Widely circulated photos and videos from that tour showed the governor spotting two people stranded atop a flooded vehicle surrounded by water and summoning rescuers.
Asked if voters will see ads of McMaster marshaling the state’s response to Florence, campaign spokeswoman Caroline Anderegg said, “Absolutely not.
“His leadership speaks for itself.”