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Commerce head sought $125 million for jobs deal

Senate Finance Chairman Hugh Leatherman listens to Sen. Vincent Sheheen as the committee discusses the bond package Wednesday.
Senate Finance Chairman Hugh Leatherman listens to Sen. Vincent Sheheen as the committee discusses the bond package Wednesday. gmelendez@thestate.com

The S.C. Commerce Department recently requested roughly $125 million in state borrowing for economic-development incentives, a powerful legislator said Thursday.

Senate President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, said he had included some of the money that Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt asked for in a draft of a bond bill, approved Wednesday by a Senate committee.

But Leatherman said he took the money out of the bond bill after he heard GOP Gov. Nikki Haley said she did not need it.

“If she doesn’t need money – no point in putting it in,” said Leatherman, who also chairs the Senate Finance Committee, which approved $237 million in borrowing for colleges, technical schools and armories.

Leatherman said Hitt approached him several weeks ago asking for money to pay for incentives for a $500 million project that would create roughly 2,500 jobs. Volvo reportedly is looking at a Berkeley County site to build an auto plant that could employ up to 4,000.

“Anytime this state can bring high-paying jobs for our people, I’m going to be supportive of it,” Leatherman said.

But Haley told GOP state senators earlier this week she did not need a bond bill to pay for incentives.

Haley has been outspoken in opposing borrowing for projects at colleges and technical schools, helping defeat a House bond proposal. Haley also has threatened to veto the Senate bond bill, causing some legislators to complain she was being hypocritical — opposing some borrowing as running up the state’s credit card but favoring it for her ideas.

A spokesperson said Thursday the governor’s office would not comment on jobs projects.

A project of the size reportedly being scoped out in Berkeley County likely would require every incentive the state could offer, state Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley, said Thursday.

Grooms said that likely would include issuing economic- development bonds. Those bonds must be approved by the Joint Bond Review Committee, made up of 10 legislators, not the full Legislature.

Reach Cope at (803) 771-8657.

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