Senator Hugh Leatherman worries that the federal government may not come through with its part of the funding to deepen the Port of Charleston. The state will pay $180 million and the federal government has promised $120 million.
Leatherman told fellow senators today that he wants to send a signal that South Carolina is serious about deepening the port.
AUDIO: Leatherman’s case for financing the extra cost (4:21)
The Senate Finance Committee today considered Leatherman’s bill to approve the issuance bonds for $120 million extra for port dredging. This measure is only to approve the bonds “to be issued if needed.” He said he wants to take advantage of interest rates as low as 3.3 percent.
Senate Transportation Chairman Larry Grooms agreed with Leatherman’s opinion that Georgia’s port in nearby Savannah could outrace the state in getting the bigger ships coming from a newly-expanded Panama Canal.
“The question is which economy is going to grow faster, the economy here in South Carolina or the economy in Georgia? Lets face it, the folks in Savannah are our greatest competition. And competition is great but I want to make sure we are on the winning side of any competition,” said Grooms.
His chief opponent to borrowing any money is Anderson Senator Kevin Bryant, who attached a minority report on the bill. Sen. Harvey Peeler, who is uneasy about borrowing as well, asked Leatherman why he didn’t urge the House to issue the $120 million instead. Leatherman said he did not want to tie up one-time money that could be used somewhere else.
Peeler is also unhappy that the Port of Georgetown got added to the bill. Last week, Leatherman agreed to add $18.5 million to help local leaders pay for dredging that port. The total on that is $33.5 million, with Georgetown paying $15 million.
The bill passed with bipartisan support and Bryant’s was the only vote against it. The bill moves on to the full Senate, where it can be amended.
When Leatherman discouraged “loading up” the finance bill with amendments, Peeler responded, “The beauty’s in the eye of the beholder. I think you started loading it up when you added Georgetown to it. That was the first light in the Christmas tree.”