The University of South Carolina’s top legislative priority hit a wall Tuesday when the House’s chief budget writer declared the state would not borrow money this year to bankroll new college construction.
State Rep. Brian White said Tuesday the state’s first bond bill since 2001 would pay for maintenance needs, not for USC’s new medical school campus or any other new campus building.
“That is not the point of this,” the Anderson Republican said as House budget writers began to cut more than $2 billion in proposed projects into a roughly $450 million borrowing plan. “If the hogs come out and try to get greedy on something, it will just go away as fast as it appears.”
S.C. colleges apparently received that message ahead of Tuesday’s hearing. New construction proposals were left off their bond bill requests.
Not on that list was USC’s top legislative priority – its request for $50 million to jump-start the construction of a new, $200 million medical school campus on the BullStreet site in downtown Columbia.
However, USC did ask for $50 million to redevelop its soon-to-be-former law school building on Main Street into a science and technology center, $31 million for “building renovation projects” and $11.3 million for “larger maintenance projects.”
“The medical school remains our No. 1 request, but we understand that the committee is looking specifically at renovation and maintenance projects,” USC spokesman Wes Hickman said in a statement. “We would argue that a new medical school at BullStreet still qualifies since it would replace an outdated facility that faces enormous costs to modernize, maintain and rent.
“However, we’re appreciative that the committee is considering full funding for renovating the old law school into a laboratory building for our sciences as well as funding for maintenance and renovation projects throughout the system. We’re still early in this process and look forward to continued conversations and our presentation in the Senate next week.”
S.C. colleges have pushed hard this year for a bond bill, saying they need the money for maintenance and renovation projects deferred when the state cut its funding of higher education after the Great Recession.
Colleges and technical schools account for most of the $2 billion in projects a bond bill could bankroll. All other state agencies’ requests – including $95 million to replace 1,140 aging school buses; $93.5 million in deferred maintenance on state-owned buildings; and $25 million for water and sewer infrastructure – totaled about $594 million.
“Higher ed is absolutely, positively huge,” White said. “There’s a lot of wants. There is needs, but there is a whole lot of wanting going on.”
House budget writers sifted through agencies’ requests Tuesday. They did not begin vetting or eliminating projects. Almost all of the requests were for maintenance projects.
When the full House budget-writing committee takes up the bond bill in two weeks, White said he hopes to keep its total from inflating past $450 million.
The Senate likely will add to that tally, White said, cautioning legislators should not bite off more than they can chew this year if they want to begin passing bond bills routinely again.
White said he has not talked to Gov. Henry McMaster about whether the Richland Republican would support a bond bill. “We’ve got time to talk with our folks and do this thing and do it in a proper manner where it makes sense.”
What could a bond bill pay for?
S.C. colleges and technical schools account for most of the $2 billion in projects a $450 million bond bill could bankroll. Here are some other requests:
▪ $105 million for the Education Department and State Museum Commission
▪ $23.7 million for health care
▪ $84.5 million for economic development
▪ $150 million for law enforcement agencies
▪ $53.2 million for the S.C. Fire Academy and Transportation Department
▪ $93.5 million for maintenance of state buildings
▪ $40 million for Parks, Recreation and Tourism
▪ $35 million for armory renovation projects
SOURCE: House Ways and Means Committee