Politics & Government

After House setback, USC takes bid for $50 million for med school to SC Senate

USC president Harris Pastides makes pitch for a "very large bond bill," USC's $50 million medical school request

USC president Harris Pastides makes pitch for a "very large bond bill," USC's $50 million medical school request.
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USC president Harris Pastides makes pitch for a "very large bond bill," USC's $50 million medical school request.

The University of South Carolina has not given up on its request for $50 million request from state lawmakers for a new medical school campus in downtown Columbia.

But a powerful Republican state senator says the school’s latest push to bankroll its top legislative priority through a borrowing proposal likely will fall short.

A week after House budget writers said they would provide no money for the project in the state’s first bond bill since 2001, USC president Harris Pastides on Wednesday took his case to the S.C. Legislature’s upper chamber.

Pastides asked a panel of S.C. senators to tack USC’s new medical school campus onto the House’s borrowing plan when the Senate considers it later this spring.

“This will be a health-science complex like Harvard has,” Pastides said, asking senators for a “very large bond bill.”

While the House envisions borrowing $450 million, Pastides urged senators to borrow twice that amount — $900 million.

But the Senate is unlikely to approve paying for the medical school project with the bond bill this year, said Senate Education Committee chair John Courson, whose district includes USC’s downtown Columbia campus.

The Senate likely will add to the House’s version of the bond bill, the Richland Republican said. But the Senate’s version must be modest enough to keep House budget writers on board and avoid a veto from GOP Gov. Henry McMaster, Courson said.

USC’s $50 million request — its top legislative priority this year — would jump-start a new, $200 million medical school and health sciences complex on 16 acres of donated land, at downtown Columbia’s Bull Street site.

Hopes for the money suffered a blow last week when House budget writers said the bond bill – expected by the House to be about $450 million – would pay only for renovation and maintenance projects, not new campus construction.

In USC’s final public push for the $50 million Wednesday, Pastides argued the new medical school still should qualify because the project is more efficient than renovating the medical school’s current, aging site on Garners Ferry Road.

That site needs $75 million in improvements and is owned by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. USC’s rent there – now $1 a year – is expected to increase to $7.5 million a year after the current lease ends in 2030.

“It will replace an outdated facility that will cost even more to renovate and to rent, and it still won’t meet the standards of a modern education,” Pastides told senators.

Jeffrey Guy, a physician for USC’s football team, testified putting USC’s medical school and health science programs in the same place for the first time would encourage the collaboration that he saw at Harvard University, where he earned his medical degree. “We can do the same thing here,” Guy said.

Courson, who also chairs the Senate panel in charge of higher education spending, said USC’s case was persuasive.

He said he has not spoken to McMaster, who became governor in January, about whether the Richland Republican would veto a bond bill.

USC president Pastides said Wednesday he would prefer to see a bond bill of about $900 million. The state should front-load its first bond bill in 16 years to take advantage of low interest rates, he said.

But after the House’s efforts to keep the bond bill at roughly half that, the Senate probably will not increase it past about $600 million, Courson said.

“With the House saying ‘no’ to it, it’s going to make it extremely difficult for the Senate to add on,” Courson said of the med school proposal.

Avery G. Wilks: 803-771-8362, @averygwilks

Swing and a miss

S.C. colleges last December asked for more than $1.1 billion in the added money from the state. What each school requested:

College of Charleston: $130,515,820

The Citadel: $6,332,000

Clemson University: $102,725,840

Coastal Carolina University: $60,697,200

Francis Marion University: $28,360,000

Lander University: $15,887,863

S.C. State University: $26,613,342

Medical University of South Carolina: $108,500,000

University of South Carolina – all campuses: $177,996,172

Winthrop University: $92,510,000

S.C. technical colleges: $355,485,013

Total: $1,105,623,250

SOURCE: S.C. Department of Administration