‘Small’ $497 Million Bond Bill to Hit Ways & Means
PAYING FOR ROUTINE RENOVATIONS WITH DEBT HAS BECOME A THING
Update: The final version of the committee bill ended up being $497 million, nearly half of which is going to higher education. The amount appropriated to the DOT for rest area renovations is $16.2 million. Chairman Brian White stated that this appropriation will help ensure that the gas tax revenue is directed to fixing roads instead of rest areas.
A House Ways and Means subcommittee has begun laying groundwork for a bond bill, characterized as a “small” expenditure by subcommittee members. The full committee will consider the bill soon.
While agency requests for bond funding totaled more than $2.6 billion (most of those requests came from the state’s higher education institutions), Ways and Means chairman Brian White stated his intent to keep the final amount around $425 million.
Nearly all of the proposed bonding projects were for building and equipment renovation, and maintenance. The Department of Transportation, for example, asked for over $43 million – not for roads but for rest area renovation. The State Museum Commission requested $10 million for gallery renovation, and the University of South Carolina requested $50 million to renovate an old law school facility, the university having just finished constructing a new law school.
Many of the agencies requesting bond funding did not see major increases in funding in this year’s Ways and Means budget, and lawmakers repeatedly said during budget deliberations that there was little money to spend. At a time when the state pension debt is burgeoning and when lawmakers are pretending the state doesn’t have enough money to pay for a core service like roads, borrowing money to pay for state university wish lists isn’t obviously sound policy. In any case, however, the bonding process itself is murky by design, allowing lawmakers to spend borrowed money with virtually no public awareness or input.
Even more concerning than this singular bill is White’s intent, as he has stated openly, to bring similar bond bills every few years. Except in extraordinary circumstances, routine maintenance and renovation should be funded through the yearly budget – not paid for by debt financing.