Many of South Carolina's workers are hurting due to our 12.6 percent unemployment rate. MSNBC.com recently covered the hardest hit professions; it was no surprise to my colleagues and me that architecture was No. 1 with 17.8 percent in job losses.
Construction workers are right on our heels; the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics reported that S.C. construction jobs are down 16.3 percent in the past year. These numbers do not account for the self-employed who have been under-employed for the past two years or the companies that have kept their employees but cut their wages.
In order for South Carolina to move out of this recession, we need to put our large construction industry back to work. In reviewing Gov. Sanford's 2010-2011 proposed budget, I could find only one capital improvement project, for $15 million, despite the fact that there were more than $900 million of requested funds for building projects. Our universities and public agencies have put new construction on hold and deferred maintenance for far too long. There has not been a capital bond bill passed since 2001. We cannot afford to go another year without one.
Architects, landscape architects, planners, surveyors, civil engineers, geo-technical engineers, mechanical engineers, structural engineers, acoustical engineers, interior designers, general contractors, carpenters, mechanical contractors, roofers, masons, painters, cabinet makers, electricians, plumbers, insulators, laborers, building material manufacturers and suppliers, city planners, city building code reviewers and inspectors - these are among the 24,000 people whose jobs will be created and sustained, with $720 million in personal income, with each $1 billion in nonresidential construction spending. Passing a $1 billion capital bond bill would increase the state's gross domestic product by almost $2.3 billion.
At first glance, we can understand why our legislators are reluctant take on an ambitious spending program when our state economy is so weak and the current state budget is in deficit. But the fact is that there is no better time for this type of investment: Interest rates are at an all-time low; construction companies are eager to work at very competitive prices; our state economy badly needs a stimulus; and fully employing our construction industry workers will boost state income tax receipts.
In good times, we can pay for capital projects with cash. In fact, we should. However, when the cash is not on hand, it makes sense to approve a bond. We can use our excellent AAA credit rating, which gives us access to cash at low cost. Plus we can use the lull in the construction market to find qualified contractors at competitive prices. Construction projects will pump money into our economy. Finally, many of my colleagues' income has been so reduced in the past two years that they have paid almost nothing in state income tax. We all look forward to being busy and generating taxable income.
This is not an invitation to waste money. The bonds will be paid off with real dollars, when the recovery is realized. So each procurement dollar saved now is a tax dollar saved later.
But these projects, especially the deferred maintenance projects, need to be under construction sooner rather than later. An investment in infrastructure will be good for our economy now and good for South Carolinians for many years to come.