Politics & Government

Legislators hint at mystery deal; is it Boeing?

South Carolina State House
South Carolina State House AP

The General Assembly will reconvene for a two-day special session today to restore unemployment benefits lost by thousands of jobless South Carolinians.

But the session also could yield a surprise by clearing the way for what lawmakers say could be a significant economic development project.

The Senate Finance Committee is scheduled to meet this morning to consider legislation lawmakers say is needed to land the as-yet unannounced project.

Meanwhile, the House and Senate also are likely to make decisions about how they would handle impeachment proceedings against embattled Gov. Mark Sanford.

The surprise, however, is the economic development deal.

"As these things go, there is a blackout around this," said Rules Committee chairman Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens. "This is something that could help make this development happen."

Speculation immediately centered on Boeing, the Chicago-based aerospace giant that said last week it had narrowed to two its possible locations for a second assembly plant for its 787 Dreamliner jet - Everett, Wash., and North Charleston.

The company said it expected to make a decision within two weeks. Lawmakers were tight-lipped Monday.

"This is still something very much in the contingency stage," Martin said. "An official announcement is still not nailed down yet, as I understand it."

Still, Martin and others said the project under consideration is something the General Assembly would have had to come back into session to deal with in any event, even if the lost jobless benefits furor, involving the state Employment Security Commission, had not occurred.

Lawmakers' last session left extended federal employment benefits tied to the number of jobless in the state, rather than to the state's unemployment rate. That error cost about 7,000 South Carolinians extended benefits.

Today, the House is expected to take up a Senate-passed bill dealing with the Employment Security Commission, using it to correct the benefits error. That bill could get automatic passage on its third reading Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the Senate is not expected to sit around waiting for the House to act.

The Senate Finance Committee will take up a House-passed tax credit bill, H.3130, passed in April, and use it to address the unannounced economic development project.

"We're going to tend to the Employment Security Commission situation, where 7,000 are affected, and certainly it is worth us going back for," said Minority Leader Sen. John Land, D-Clarendon, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee.

"This dovetails nicely with it," Land said of the economic development issue.

The Senate Judiciary Committee also will meet this morning - ahead of today's noon special session - to take up amending the existing sine die resolution, the measure under which the General Assembly convenes and adjourns.

Both the Senate and House may take steps to clarify vague statutes in the state Constitution regarding impeachment. The Senate Ethics Committee is reviewing Sanford's travel, an issue that came to the forefront after Sanford left the country earlier this year without notice to carry on an extramarital affair in Argentina.

Sanford also visited Argentina in 2008 on a state-sponsored trip, in which he also met with his lover, reimbursing the state for the trip only after his affair became public.

State Rep. Greg Delleney, R-Chester, said he will introduce a bill today calling for Sanford's impeachment. That bill is expected to go to committee, laying the groundwork for future proceedings.

As for the Senate, Martin said he thinks the law gives the House and the Senate ample leeway to convene at will to carry out their duties regarding impeachment, without the governor's permission or that of the other General Assembly body.

House Speaker Pro Tempore Harry Cato, R-Greenville, noted there are different rules governing the two bodies and what they can discuss on the floor.

"The entertainment may be in the Senate," Cato said.