The 1929 Highway Bond Bill authorized the State Highway Commission to sell bonds to build a system of hard-surfaced roads throughout the state. Beginning with the creation of the State Highway Commission in 1917, state officials had used available gas tax revenue to build roads on a pay-as-you-go basis. This proved to be a slow process, and lowcountry legislators decided to have the state borrow funds to undertake a major road-building campaign. Legislators from the upcountry opposed the concept, as many of their counties had already built roads with local funds. They recognized that as the most populous and most heavily industrialized region of the state, they would bear most of the cost while the lowcountry would reap most of the benefit. However, lowcountry legislators dominated the General Assembly, and they used their power to secure passage.
The 1929 Bond Bill pledged automobile license tag and gas tax revenue to repay the bonds, and as such, the bonds did not count against the state’s debt limit. The state supreme court, in an en banc session in which the five justices sat with the fourteen circuit judges, upheld the constitutionality of the act. The circuit judges, who traveled the state’s deplorable roads more frequently, outvoted the supreme court justices. By 1932, when the entire state budget was only about $8 million, the Highway Commission had sold nearly $50 million in bonds.
The Bond Bill created a state agency, the Highway Department, which was financially independent of the General Assembly and beyond the control of future governors. The fight over the Bond Bill of 1929 marked another of the occasional struggles between upcountry and lowcountry legislators, and was a precursor to the struggle in 1935, when Governor Olin Johnston called out the National Guard in an unsuccessful bid to wrest control of the Highway Department from its politically powerful leader, Ben Sawyer. The highway building campaign also represented an early state effort to promote industrial development in the lowcountry.
Carlton, David L. “Unbalanced Growth and Industrialization: The Case of South Carolina.” In Developing Dixie: Modernization in a Traditional Society, edited by Winfred B. Moore, Jr., Joseph F. Tripp, and Lyon G. Tyler, Jr. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1988.
Moore, John Hammond. The South Carolina Highway Department, 1917–1987. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1987.