South Carolina’s college oversight board would lose its ability to approve or reject new athletic facilities or construction renovations at the state’s 33 public colleges, under a budget plan headed to the governor’s desk for his signature.
Legislators approved next year’s proposed $8 billion General Fund budget during a special session Tuesday. The new budget plan covers the next fiscal year, which begins in June.
The language was added to the budget earlier this year after the Commission on Higher Education (CHE) blocked projects at the University of South Carolina, Clemson University and Coastal Carolina University this past year for relying on what commissioners believed was too much borrowing without donor money. After the commission rejected Coastal Carolina’s plans to borrow $38 million for upgrades to its football stadium last year, legislators allowed the college an exception work around the committee. Commissioners also required USC lower its athletics fee charged to students before they would approve a football operations facility.
State Rep. Bill Taylor, R-Aiken, questioned why the legislature slashed CHE just as the agency was starting to become more involved in cutting college costs. “The last year or so, they’ve done their job,” he said shortly before the House approved the budget plan. “They’ve vetted projects. They’ve looked at them hard. They have negotiated a couple of them to a much better price, if you will.”
But supporters of the change such as State Sen. Paul Campbell, R-Berkeley, said college athletics construction projects are largely financed via television revenue, alumni donations or bonds backed by ticket sales. During debate Tuesday, Campbell said he does not think private funding should be subject to government regulators.
However, the budget language goes beyond athletics facilities to cover renovations, minor repair or maintenance work and most new construction that is not academic buildings. The agency told the Associated Press that would slash about 80 percent of the college projects they currently review. All projects would still be subject to the Joint Bond Review Committee and the State Fiscal Accountaibility Authority before colleges could proceed.
Gov. Henry McMaster has two weeks to veto either all or parts of the $8 billion General Fund budget for the fiscal year which begins next month.