Despite Gov. Nikki Haley’s objections, we hope the state Legislature will proceed with a plan to borrow nearly $500 million for a variety of much needed projects across the state. Now, with interest rates extremely low, is an ideal time to borrow the money.
Since 2008, when the Great Recession hit, South Carolina has done little but cut spending. The proposed $497.2 bond package, which was unanimously approved by the House Ways and Means Committee Feb. 19, would be the first major state bond issue for buildings and infrastructure in 15 years.
Senate President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, also has indicated that he would look favorably at the bond package.
Among the proposed projects, the borrowed money would provide 12 colleges and universities across the state – including Winthrop University but not S.C. State – $146 million for long-delayed building repairs and maintenance. That would be the largest expenditure in the bond package.
The package also would provide $94 million for technical schools for work force training; $60 million for water and sewer projects for economic development; $50 million for deferred maintenance at state-owned buildings and renovation of state welcome centers; and $50 million for K-12 education. The education money would not be spent on any particular projects but, instead, would be set aside as a reserve to meet the mandate from the state Supreme Court to improve student access to education in poor, rural school districts.
Haley, predictably, opposed borrowing the money even though the bond package would address several of her priorities, such as infrastructure improvements to help attract development and increased work force training. Haley accused Rep. Brian White, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee and the House’s chief budget writer, of wanting to “run up the credit-card debt just because he can.”
But proponents of the plan argue that the bond package would not increase what the state is paying on the debt because another bond package is about to be retired. Supporters also argue that spending the money could help spur rural job growth, especially in terms of job training and infrastructure improvements.
It also is important to note that deferring maintenance and failing to make timely investments in job training can end up costing more over the long haul. And it makes sense to borrow the money to do that when interest rates are near historic lows.
Even if the state approves the money for these worthy projects, it still would fall well short of what is needed to address a variety of other pressing needs. For example, his bond package includes nothing for road and bridge repairs.
But the bond issue would help. The state needs to address overdue maintenance as well as job creation and work-force education.
And as any homeowner can attest, it makes sense to borrow money to fix the roof when leaks could destroy the whole house.