At a called news conference Thursday morning, South Carolina Senate President Pro Tempore Hugh K. Leatherman Sr. said he won’t stand for the blatant mockery of Florence County residents by the Charleston-based S.C. Coastal Conservation League.
His response comes after the League’s director Dana Beach told The State newspaper that Leatherman – the Senate leader and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee –uses the State Infrastructure Bank as his personal “slush fund” to bring excessive funding to his home district.
Leatherman said Florence County residents are assured $488 million for six separate roads projects, and he won’t tolerate outside organizations claiming his county doesn’t need the money.
Those funds come from $148 million in revenue from the 2006 Florence County penny sales tax, $250 million in matching funds from the infrastructure bank and an additional $90 million in grants from the infrastructure bank.
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“So-called ‘conservation activists’ have made it their business to tell the people of Florence what’s good for them,” Leatherman said. “They say we don’t need to improve the Florence County roads as voted for by our citizens in a referendum for a penny increase on our sales tax.”
He said proponents want to take money set aside by the infrastructure bank for Florence County and use it elsewhere.
“Activists from the Coastal Conservation League in Charleston are trying to commit highway robbery on Florence County, and I will not permit it,” Leatherman said. “Before I became chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, all monies went to Greenville, Columbia and Charleston. No more. We are going to get our fair share and no longer be ignored.”
Leatherman backed his claim by showing that Charleston has received $1.1 billion for road repairs from the infrastructure bank, while Florence County has gotten roughly one-third that amount.
He said it’s easier for the “rabble rousers” to make assumptions about the needs of his county, rather than look at the facts and take into consideration the needs of the people. He drew an example from The State’s article of activist Dana Beach lying on a stretch of Pamplico Highway to prove the road isn’t as busy as it seems.
“You can come here and supposedly lay in the road and say, ‘Oh, you don’t need this money, I didn’t get run over.’ Well, we don’t know about that,” Leatherman said. “We’ll leave that to our people and what they think is best.”
Leatherman said the purpose of the news conference was to let his constituents know that they will get the road repairs they voted for, without interference from outside groups.
Arguably the most powerful man in state government, Leatherman said accusations of cronyism are unjustified.
“I think of myself in a good position to influence what happens in this state and help wherever the need is in the state – whether it be Florence County, Charleston, Greenville or wherever,” Leatherman said. “People like to talk about power, but it’s the ability to do what’s good for the people of this state.”
FLORENCE COUNTY ROAD PROJECTS
From the 2006 Capital Sales Tax Project referendum that passed in 2006:
- Pine Needles Road widening – from South Ebenezer to Southborough Road
- U.S. 378 widening – from U.S. 52 near Lake City to S.C. 41 in Kingsburg
- U.S. 76 widening – From Honda Way in Timmonsville to the I-95 interchange at Meador’s Road
- TV Road widening – From Wilson Road to the I-95 interchange at East Blanchard Road
- Pamplico Highway widening – From Claussen Road to U.S. 378 near Kingsburg
- U.S. 301 Bypass extension / Alligator Road widening – for U.S. 76 near Timmonsville to U.S. 52/301