Today, we stand at a crossroads in South Carolina. One path leads to opportunity. The other is headed to a dead-end of missed chances.
Presently, the state Legislature is considering an important bond bill – the likes of which could help transform our state’s economic future.
Unfortunately, the discussion of this bond bill has become highly politicized. Critics have missed the mark completely. A bond bill is not about building up government or running up credit card-like debt, as some will try to spin it. Quite the opposite, it’s about fixing our state’s aging facilities in a way that is fiscally responsible.
Plain and simple, it’s about investment – and that’s a smart business decision. Just as in the private sector, government must also invest to grow its economy and to enhance opportunities for its people. That’s what we did with BMW in the Upstate and Boeing in the Lowcountry. And the state is better for it.
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Bond bills are critical financial tools for state infrastructure improvements, and this one will greatly help public colleges and universities address long-overdue maintenance and facility repairs.
In many ways, a bond bill is like taking out a mortgage. It’s a smart way to afford big investments – like a house or a car. For our state, a bond bill spreads the cost over many years. And as most homeowners know, the current interest rates are at a historic low and are only expected to rise in the near future. Now is the time to act.
Homeowners also know that the longer you wait on repairs, the bigger and more expensive the fixes are later. It’s been 15 years since the last bond bill, and we can’t wait any longer. That lack of investment in our state has had an impact.
How so? It’s hit the pocketbooks of everyday families across the state. Like you, I am dismayed at the rising cost to attend our state colleges and universities. And, while there are many drivers of cost, one that perhaps many do not consider is infrastructure and facilities.
Because it has been so long since the last bond bill, colleges have had to rely primarily on private fundraising and tuition to cover the costs of maintenance needs. For example, at the College of Charleston, about 15 percent of our current tuition revenue goes into facility maintenance. For an institution like ours, with 87 buildings more than 100 years old, that operational expense is considerable.
So what we are seeing now is that these costs are simply passed on: onto the backs of young people and hard-working South Carolina families. It’s unsustainable and counter to the educational missions of our public colleges and universities.
Access and affordability to higher education will ensure our state’s future economic success. The jobs of tomorrow – in the areas of auto manufacturing, aerospace, health care and technology – will demand advanced studies. And a bond bill like the one proposed here will make certain that the state has the necessary resources and facilities required to meet this workforce demand.
As a longtime fiscal conservative, I believe in this proposal because it helps South Carolina, period. This is not solely about borrowing – this is ultimately about jobs and South Carolina’s commitment to being competitive now and in the future. I ask everyone to contact their state legislator and show their support for the bond bill now under consideration. It is both pro-education and pro-business, and that means it is pro-South Carolina.
Glenn F. McConnell is the president of the College of Charleston and former lieutenant governor of South Carolina and former President Pro Tempore of the S.C Senate.