Members of the state House introduced a plan that would borrow more than $400 million to cut into a massive backlog of maintenance needs, particularly at South Carolina’s colleges.
If approved, it would be the first time since 2001 that state lawmakers have raised money for colleges in this way. A House budget panel on Tuesday revealed roughly $2 billion in poject requests submitted by various schools and agencies which could be considered for the bond package. However, that list will need to be pared down significantly to meet the $400-$425 million goal set by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Brian White, R-Anderson.
White was emphatic the state would only be borrowing for maintenance or renovations and warned colleges against pushing for more. “The hope is not to do new buildings on college campuses. That is not the point of this,” he said during Tuesday’s meeting. “If the hogs come out and try to get greedy on something, it will go away just as fast as it appeared.”
No action was taken on the bill Tuesday in what was more of a presentation than traditional committee hearing. The House Ways and Means proposed a similar bill last year, but it ultimately failed on the House floor after Gov. Nikki Haley criticized using debt to pay for maintenance while many colleges were also simultaneously expanding. Many House Republicans — already hesitant on borrowing — dropped their support amidst the govenor’s veto threat.
Under the administration of its past two Republican governors, South Carolina has been extremely reluctant to borrow for non-infrastructure projects. As a result, South Carolina is well below its five percent bonding capacity. However, White said he does not want to maximize that all at once.
“If we stick in that modest area, we don’t have to increase our debt service,” he said. “So we can come back in another two years and do another (bonding package). And in another two years, do another one. We don’t have to just do like last time, where you hit (the maximum) and then you don’t do one for 17 years.”
Colleges and technical schools account for almost three-quarters of the $2 billion in suggested projects. All other state agencies’ requests totaled about $594 million.