Politics & Government

McMaster cut money to replace fiery school buses; now, he says he's found the cash

S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster says he knows where the state might find money to replace some of its fire-prone school buses.

South Carolina will get about $34 million over the next three to 10 years as part of the state’s share of a nearly $3 billion settlement with German carmaker Volkswagen, accused of cheating on federal emissions tests for vehicles. McMaster urged state schools Superintendent Molly Spearman Monday to request some of that money to buy new buses.

Spearman’s spokesman said Monday the state Education Department will apply for the money.

In the state budget that started July 1, McMaster vetoed $20.5 million for new school buses that Spearman requested to buy new school buses to replace aging fire-prone buses, manufactured more than 20 years ago. The Richland Republican said he cut the money — to come from lottery profits — because it might not come in and should be spent on college scholarships anyway.

Senate President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, said last week that lawmakers should return to Columbia to override McMaster’s veto, noting money is available to buy new buses,. However, that won’t happen unless House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, who opposes calling lawmakers back to town before January, changes his mind.

Instead, McMaster encouraged Spearman to submit a proposal requesting Volkswagen settlement money to pay for new buses. The S.C. Department of Insurance is reviewing requests for that money. To qualify, proposals must reduce vehicle emissions and meet other requirements.

“Replacement of our aging school bus fleet satisfies these criteria and is a project that I expect South Carolinians would strongly support,” McMaster said.