S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster’s honeymoon with the state’s public colleges apparently is over.
Ten S.C. college presidents and the director of the S.C. Technical College System on Friday signed a letter, obtained by The State newspaper, urging the Richland Republican to back off his stance against borrowing money this year for college renovation projects.
“Without this critical funding, many badly needed repairs and renovations will continue to be delayed, which means they will only become more extensive and costly in the future,” the presidents wrote.
The letter, which includes the signature of University of South Carolina President Harris Pastides, comes three days after McMaster asked members of the S.C. House to strike those projects – worth about $250 million – from a proposed $500 million bond bill.
McMaster spokesman Brian Symmes released this statement Friday night: "The governor appreciates the college president’s perspective and sincerity - but if the General Assembly is determined to break out the state credit card; fixing roads now for all South Carolinians takes priority over college buildings."
McMaster, governor since January, said Tuesday the borrowing plan instead should be increased to $1 billion and spent entirely on road repairs, threatening to veto a gas tax increase proposed for the same purpose.
McMaster added college building repairs are “very important, but not urgent,” vowing to veto the bond plan in its current form.
Colleges had been hopeful that under McMaster, a USC graduate and one-time fundraiser for USC’s law school, legislators would pass the state’s first bond bill since 2001.
House budget writers drafted a borrowing plan, with money for maintenance projects at every S.C. public college. The earliest the S.C. House could take the proposal up is in two weeks, when legislators return from furlough.
In the letter, college presidents laid out the case for a bond bill, stressing the value of higher education as an economic driver and the importance of borrowing while interest rates are low.
“Nearly 70 percent of our facilities are 25 or more years old, and a third are 50 or more years old,” they wrote. “Without attention, these aging facilities are in poor condition, lack ADA accommodations and will continue to deteriorate – just as many of our roads have.
“Both priorities must be addressed. Let’s work together to find funding solutions for both roads and higher education.”
The letter was signed by S.C. Technical College System director Tim Hardee and presidents at The Citadel, Clemson University, Coastal Carolina University, College of Charleston, Francis Marion University, Lander University, the Medical University of South Carolina, S.C. State University, the University of South Carolina and Winthrop University.