April 23, 2014

Senators vote to extend Conservation Bank

The South Carolina state Senate has committed to extending the South Carolina Conservation Bank for another five years. Senators voted 38-2 Thursday to continue the land protection agency, which would have expired next year under current law. The new legislation, which now heads to the House, would allow it to remain open until at least 2018.

SC Senate (File)

 

“This bill is merely extending the life five years. That’s all we’re asking for,” Sen. Yancey McGill (D-Kingstree) said on the Senate floor, “I can tell you right now that many others wanted ten years. Some wanted unlimited. But we settled for five years.”

The extension did not come without heated debate, however. Some opponents questioned if putting easements on private land was the best use of taxpayer money. Sen. Shane Martin (R-Spartanburg) said he supported the concept, but questioned why private money could not fund it.

“In the times when we’ve got disabled children who we have trouble finding funding for (and) we’ve got law enforcement officers that haven’t had a raise in four or five years… I just can’t, in good conscience, commit state funds to this,” he said.

However, supporters say the Conservation Bank is primarily funded through a documentary stamp tax on all real estate transactions– so it is not taking funds away from other services. But Martin pointed out the state has set aside millions in one-time General Fund revenues over the past few years as the real estate market crashed.

Martin eventually voted in favor of the bill, saying his constituents wanted it. Sens. Lee Bright (R-Spartanburg) and Mike Fair (R-Greenville) were the only “no” votes.

Sen. Greg Gregory (R-Lancaster) said the state gets a large return on its investment, “This is probably the most efficient and costworthy (sic) program that we have in state government,” he told Martin, “They’ve been able to acquire land throughout South Carolina… for an average of about $550 an acre.”

The House passed a similar version of the bill in May 2011. Details need to be worked out before the legislation goes to Gov. Nikki Haley for her signature. Haley has not said if she would veto the bill, although she did veto the bank’s General Fund money last year. Legislators overrode her at the time.