A roundup of what’s making news in South Carolina state government.
A state House of Representatives panel managed to grab most of the headlines Tuesday after it voted to include language in the upcoming budget that would shut down South Carolina State University for a year.
The move comes as the school struggles with a large debt and shrinking student body. State Rep. Jim Merrill, R-Charleston, and others on the House higher education budget subcommittee called the plan a last resort to keep the school from bankruptcy.
The panel approved the measure in a 3-1 vote. It then advanced to a second subcommittee that considers all provisos before they are added the House budget. That committee delayed a vote until at least Wednesday.
Only a few hours later, a defiant SC State president Thomas Elzey told students the school “will not close” and vowed to do everything he could to fight the House effort. Meanwhile, other members of the House and Senate cautioned against the idea, but agreed the school needed to take its financial situation more seriously.
The provisos subcommittee will meet again Wednesday afternoon.
— Meanwhile, the Charleston Post & Courier reports the Legislative Black Caucus is expected to make a vote of “no confidence” in Elzey’s leadership Wednesday. A meeting was scheduled for 9 a.m. and comes as House budget writers become frustrated with the school’s lack of progress in addressing its financial troubles.
— Gov. Nikki Haley met with the House Republican Caucus behind closed doors on Tuesday, as the two sides try to reconcile competing road funding plans. The governor has called for a gas tax increase to be matched with an income tax cut, but House Republicans favor a separate plan that would have the sales tax apply to fuel in exchange for an overall reduction in the gas tax. After the meeting, House Majority Leader Bruce Bannister, R-Greenville, said he expects lawmakers to introduce two proposals to fix the state’s ailing roads and bridges Wednesday.
— Meanwhile, a conservative group is calling on South Carolina leaders not to increase the gas tax as they search for a way to raise more money for roads. The Americans for Prosperity (AFP) rally on the Statehouse grounds Tuesday featured State Treasurer Curtis Loftis. State highway officials say they need an additional $1.5 billion each year just to maintain the current network. Loftis told reporters that figure is essentially a wish list for the agency and is unnecessarily high. AFP’s state director says there is a lack of trust from the public that the additional tax revenue will be used efficiently.
— Police and prosecutors from around South Carolina are calling on lawmakers to end an exemption to the state’s DUI laws that they say allows far too many drivers to be cleared on technicalities. 16th Circuit Solicitor Kevin Brackett says the issue is a 2009 state law that requires all DUI sobriety tests be on video. He said some judges have interpreted that to mean the entire test must be recorded, tossing out cases if the suspect steps out of frame or even if their feet are obscured by the car’s hood.