A proposal to borrow $237 million to pay for building needs at state colleges, tech schools and armories soon could die, state senators indicated Tuesday.
Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler, R-Cherokee, said Tuesday the borrowing proposal does not have enough support to get through the Senate. Instead, Peeler successfully called for the creation of a committee to study the issue.
Meanwhile, Republican House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, chided the Senate Tuesday for tying up proposals to reform the state’s ethics laws and raise money to repair crumbling roads, two other proposals the Senate has yet to act on this year.
Peeler’s study committee would assess building needs at colleges and tech schools, other long-term building needs statewide and the state’s borrowing capacity. It would be an alternative to approving the $237 million borrowing package for S.C. colleges, technical schools and armories proposed by Senate President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence.
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Peeler criticized the process by which Senate members proposed borrowing $237 million as well as a $500 million House borrowing plan that Republican Gov. Nikki Haley helped kill in March.
“That’s no way to address the needs,” Peeler said of the borrowing proposals. “This is a better way.”
The study committee – made up of three senators, three House members and three appointees of Haley – would make recommendations by the end of the year, before next January’s start of the second year in the Legislature’s two-year session.
Some senators — including Sen. John Courson, R-Richland — said they support both proposals, Leatherman’s bond package and Peeler’s study committee, adding the two are not mutually exclusive.
Others said the study committee is an obstacle to the borrowing plan.
“The politics don’t take away from the need,” said state Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Richland, adding if the Legislature delays borrowing and interest rates go up, the failure to act now will cost S.C. taxpayers more.
Meanwhile, Lucas urged the GOP-majority Senate to pass ethics reform and road-repair legislation in the 14 days left in this year’s session, saying members of the GOP-dominated House had done their jobs and passed proposals.
“Sitting in the Senate lie dozens and dozens of unaddressed House bills,” said Lucas from the House floor, adding the Senate is failing “to restore confidence with those who entrust us to serve.”
“You cannot claim to be a stalwart for economic development in this state ... without addressing our crumbling infrastructure,” Lucas said. “The bottom line is no matter what others claim, the leadership that exists underneath this capitol dome sits in this very room. Make no mistake about that.”
The Darlington Republican’s comments were a slap at Republican Gov. Haley.
Addressing the S.C. Republican Party’s annual convention Saturday, Haley said only 17 lawmakers – including six House members – have backed her plans to cut billions in taxes and raise millions for roads, endorsed her opposition to state borrowing and pushed for ethics reform.
House members whistled and cheered as Lucas, who never named Haley, said, “The S.C. House understands that you can’t substitute leadership with a list.”
In March, Haley told a trade group that they would need a “good shower” after visiting the State House. Lucas responded that Haley’s “middle-school comments” threatened to “poison the well.”
$900 bonus for state employees?
State Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Kershaw, proposed a plan Tuesday to give state employees a $900 bonus if there is enough surplus money in the state budget.
That proposal would cost $25.5 million.
Instead of a pay raise, the S.C. House and Senate Finance Committee have proposed spending nearly $35 million to offset the cost of higher health-care costs for state employees.
State Sen. Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg, began filibustering Sheheen’s pay-raise proposal Tuesday. Bright said any surplus money should go instead to road repairs. Bright said he planned to continue filibustering Wednesday, adding he would speak “as long as I can go.”