COLUMBIA - The House bond bill that Gov. Henry McMaster wants to use for road funding would pay $25 million for renovations at two aging Clemson University classroom buildings, $8 million for work at a University of South Carolina Upstate science building and $87 million for projects at the state's technical college system, if lawmakers approve the bill as written.
The bill would fund just shy of $500 million of mostly renovation and maintenance projects at 17 universities and campuses as well as capital needs at 15 state agencies, ranging from welcome centers to state parks to mental health centers. The schools and agencies had requested a total of $2 billion in project funding earlier this year.
If passed, it would be the first capital improvement bond bill for higher education and agencies since 2001.
"It is essential the General Assembly pass the capital bond bill that provides critical funding for maintenance and renovation projects at colleges and universities throughout the state," Wes Hickman, a spokesman for the University of South Carolina, told The Greenville News. "Investing in higher education infrastructure helps to retain talent. Both North Carolina and Georgia have invested billions in higher education and we must be able to compete in order to provide highly educated doctors, engineers, entrepreneurs, teachers and others who drive South Carolina’s economy."
Clemson University issued a statement Tuesday saying the bond bill would provide "important capital funding to higher education institutions seeking to improve critical academic facilities."
McMaster on Tuesday informed House Speaker Jay Lucas that he wanted the House to amend the bond bill as a means of providing a $1 billion shot in the arm to roads without raising taxes. He has threatened to veto any bill that increases the gas tax.
Lucas responded Tuesday that borrowing more money for roads was not a "permanent solution" to the state's infrastructure problem and reminded the governor that the House voted earlier this year by a "veto-proof" majority to approve a bill raising the gas tax by 10 cents per gallon over five years.
The bond bill remains on the House calendar but did not come up for debate Wednesday.
If left untouched by the governor's suggestion, the bond bill would provide $10 million for renovations for Daniel Hall and $15 million for work at Martin Hall at Clemson, two 1960s-era classroom buildings.
According to a budget summary of the projects, Daniel Hall was built in 1969 and is a principal classroom building at Clemson.
"It has undergone minimal renovations throughout its lifetime and is therefore in poor condition and unable to support contemporary teaching and learning methods," according to the summary, which says the project would renovate the building's systems, auditorium, heating and air conditioning and interior finishes.
Martin Hall was built in 1962 and is in need of heating and air conditioning work and window replacement, according to the summary.
"This renovation is a priority as part of Clemson’s capital strategy of maintaining and improving existing assets for future use and will enable the university to continue using a keystone building centrally located on campus," the summary states.
At the University of South Carolina, the bill would pay $25 million for renovations at the former law school building to convert it to a science and technology center. The school had asked for $50 million for the project. USC is nearing completion of a new law school, opening up its old space on the western side of campus.
The bill also would spend $8 million to renovate the Smith Science Building at USC Upstate, built in 1984. According to the summary, the project would upgrade existing space and add teaching lab spaces with fume hoods.
The same amount would be spent at Francis Marion University for a medical and health education complex and at USC Beaufort for a science building there.
The bill would provide $25 million for "critical" maintenance projects at the Medical University of South Carolina, which had submitted $153 million in project requests for the hospital and university and $15 million in renovation requests.
Also funded by the bill would be $10.5 million for renovations to the Silcox Physical Education and Health Center at the College of Charleston, constructed in 1939. The building is protected as a historical structure and is in need of major repairs, according to the university. The school had asked for $23 million for the project, one of only two projects for the school funded by the bill.
Altogether, the college requested more than $93 million for various projects.
The technical college system had requested $194.2 million for maintenance projects and $240.7 million for capital needs but would receive a total of $87 million if the bill passes.
According to the legislation, the system's board would decide how the money would be spent. Greenville Tech has requested $38.1 million for various renovations and maintenance upgrades and $29.5 million for a new health sciences building to replace two buildings considered by the school to be obsolete.
"The bond bill would be extremely beneficial to our 16 technical colleges across the state," said Kelly Steinhilper, a board spokeswoman. "It would allow us to renovate existing buildings and labs to best meet the workforce needs of local business and industry. Our technical colleges are constantly challenged to stay on the cutting edge of industry needs. Our labs must mirror what our students will see once they enter the workforce in order to strengthen that bridge between the classroom and the workplace."
Among the state agency requests the bill would fund is $30 million for school buses, $14.1 million for mental health center projects, $16.2 million for rest area renovations, $15 million for state armories repairs, $11 million for state park projects, $10 million for welcome center renovations, and $80 million for deferred maintenance in state buildings cared for by the Department of Administration. Officials had asked for $93.5 million for state buildings.
According to the state treasurer's office, whether the Legislature decides to pass a $500 million bond bill or a $1 billion bond bill, the state has sufficient capacity and debt service coverage under the law and would not have to raise taxes.
The Legislature would not need to increase its debt service payments because the state has been paying off existing bonds and the state's overall debt payments will decline in coming years, according to the state Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office.
The House last attempted a $500 million capital needs bond bill in 2015 but the bill failed after it was attacked by then-Gov. Nikki Haley as a "wish list." A subsequent move to pass a $236 million bond bill in the Senate for colleges, universities and state armories also failed.
The Legislature passed a bill last year that could be used by the State Infrastructure Bank to yield more than $2 billion in bonds but that money is to be used for transportation projects, principally bridges and interstate improvements.
USC's Hickman said the state's higher education institutions are just as vital as roads for the state's future.
"We simply cannot continue to shift the costs of public higher education from the state onto the backs of students and their families," he said. "Higher education, just like roads, is vital to our state’s future economic prosperity so we must find prudent ways to fund both. If we don’t take responsible steps now, our education infrastructure will be in danger of crumbling like our roads."