Using state lottery money to replace aging and potentially dangerous school buses was not the best way for the S.C. Legislature to upgrade the state’s fleet. But if Gov. Henry McMaster was intent on vetoing the plan, we wish he had championed a better one when the Legislature was in session.
South Carolina is one of the few states that still buys and maintains a school bus fleet for all schools in the state. Unfortunately, lawmakers continually fall short of providing the money to replace old buses and keep the fleet in good running order.
Seventeen public school buses have caught fire or dangerously overheated since August 2015. That is the most school-bus fires in a decade, and many of the buses involved were among the more than 1,000 bought in the 1990s or earlier.
More than a third of the state’s 5,600 buses were bought during the 1990s or earlier. The state has nearly 1,000 buses that are more than 20 years old.
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The average age of buses in the York school district is 15 years, while the average age in the Rock Hill school district is 13 years.
This year, lawmakers allocated $20.5 million in proceeds from the S.C. Education Lottery to buy new school buses. The money was supposed to have come from lottery money generated by greater sales and unclaimed prizes.
On Monday, McMaster vetoed the plan, saying it amounted to a spending trick.
“The lottery money should be used only for scholarships for our young people because that’s what voters were promised 17 years ago,” McMaster said in a taped message released on social media.
He has a point. Lottery money is primarily designated to help pay for college scholarships, and the state is obligated to provide recurring money to replace aging school buses on a regular basis.
In 2007, lawmakers pledged to budget enough money to replace the state’s entire bus fleet every 15 years. But after continually failing to set aside the money, the state now would need $72 million to replace buses that are at least 15 years old and are causing most of the problems.
A one-time withdrawal from the lottery pot is not the answer. Nonetheless, it would have allowed the state to replace buses most likely to break down or catch fire and endanger students.
The Education Department could have used the money to buy more than 200 buses and lease others, according to the agency. A new school bus costs about $80,000.
If McMaster had a better idea, he didn’t beat the drum for it while the Legislature was in session. And while he is right that lawmakerSs shouldn’t raid lottery money for essential purposes such as this, the need to ensure student safety can’t wait.