No one is willing yet to put a price tag on damages from last week’s historic rain storm in South Carolina. But some state lawmakers are talking about asking to reconvene the General Assembly to discuss paying for flood recovery.
State Reps. Rick Quinn, R-Lexington, and James Smith, D-Richland, say they have started putting together a plan to issue bonds to fix roads and use new tax revenue to help cover costs for people who don’t have enough money to rebuild their homes.
"We’re a long way from being out of the woods," Quinn said.
The General Assembly could meet in an emergency session before January to consider the plan once it is finalized, said Quinn and Smith, whose districts were hit hard by the storm.
Discussions are in the early stages, but the lawmakers said they hope to use $500 million to $700 million in additional anticipated state tax revenue. Some of that money could be used for a Superstorm Sandy-style fund to provide money to homeowners when federal disaster-relief and insurance payments don’t cover the costs of their damages.
The Federal Emergency Management Administration pays a maximum of $33,000 for disaster claims. In many cases, that won’t be nearly enough to rebuild. A majority of people who lost homes in the storm did not have flood insurance, Smith said.
"Because of the nature of the disaster, we have found us in a place where we’re going to need a plan to do more," he said. "It’s the sensible, responsible thing to do. It’s going to be a greater cost to us if we don’t help. "
The state already has at least $131.4 million in extra revenue for next year’s budget, according to the S.C. Board of Economic Advisors.
But the state’s tax revenues will take a hit due to the rainstorm and flooding that temporarily shut down Columbia and other parts of the state for days and disrupted Charleston.
The other part of the Smith-Quinn plan – borrowing money to fix and replace more than 500 damaged roads and bridges – also could meet some resistance.
Lawmakers have not been eager to borrow money recently.
Plans to issue up to $500 million in bonds for college buildings, job-training centers, economic-development projects and state armories failed during the last session.
But that was before the once-in-a-1,000-year storm that dumped up to two feet of rain on parts of the state.
"If we can hand out money to Boeing (for economic incentives), we can lay out for people who are really hurting now," Quinn said.
Quinn and Smith don’t have a dollar figure yet.
To help determine that, Quinn said lawmakers could reconvene to provide money to Gov. Nikki Haley’s office to complete damage assessments. Haley and the Legislature could use those assessments to draw up funding plans.
In an emergency session, lawmakers also could discuss budgeting more money to help with dam safety, Quinn said. In the storm, at least 20 neighborhood dams failed statewide, including more than a dozen in Richland County. Some of the dam breaks caused massive damage.
The state spent less than $200,000 on dam safety in 2013. South Carolina has more than 2,400 regulated dams.
Authority to restart the legislative session lies with Senate President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, and House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington.
More financial help for thousands of S.C. flood victims also could come from Congress, which approved $60 billion in aid after Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-Columbia, said Friday he plans to seek additional federal money. More than 31,000 South Carolinians already have registered for financial help from FEMA.
During a stop in Charleston Friday, U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-North Charleston, said he also expects a relief plan to come out of Congress. Scott and six other Republicans in the state’s congressional delegation voted against aid after Sandy.
For now, state and federal authorities are continuing to try to figure out how much repairing the state will cost.