No longer will officials with the South Carolina Conservation Bank have to ask legislators to reauthorize their funding each fiscal year.
This week, surrounded by the bank’s supporters, Governor Henry McMaster signed a new law which creates permanent funding for the Conservation Bank Trust Fund.
“Tourism is based on nature,” he said. “People usually don’t go to look at buildings unless they’re going to see the Parthenon in Greece. Most of the pictures you see are sunrises or sunsets or forests or rivers or somebody catching a fish or playing golf on a beautiful golf course so it’s very important that we realize that we are given gifts and we have to preserve them.”
The Conservation Bank was founded to purchase lands from private owners that could be preserved and protected in their natural state. It helps secure grants to buy land or easements for protection from mass development.
The new law also puts tighter standards on the bank after an audit last year criticized that a majority of its funding was spent on land not open to the public and often pledged without assurances the funding would actually be there. The agency has been funded by a portion of deed stamp fees on real estate deals since its creation in 2002. However, the proposal sent to the governor would strip away that funding source and instead set aside approximately $10 million per year from the state’s General Fund.
State Rep. Brian White, R-Anderson, was a sponsor of the bill and present at this week’s ceremonial signing.
“To make it permanent is something that we needed to do,” he said. We took a good thing and made it even better by actually having a plan.”
The bill also provides $3 million annually for the DNR for matching funds for federally-funded grant programs, such as the North American Wetlands Conservation Act and the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act.
White also commended Senator Chip Campsen, R- Charleston, who was a strong supporter of the Conservation Bank but not at the signing ceremony.
“This was his brainchild,” he said. “It’s about those future generations, having a great state, great resources, a place to live, a place to grow up and raise a family and have a good-paying job. All that is accomplished by this bill.”
Campsen has criticized a budget veto by McMaster which would have allowed the bank to hire additional staff, arguing the staff were supposed to help the agency meet its tighter vetting requirements. The governor insists the agency has enough funding to perform its administrative tasks. Lawmakers will consider the governor’s vetoes in a special session next month.