The Legislature’s glacial progress as this year’s session heads into its final day is making the head of the Medical University of South Carolina nervous.
MUSC President David Cole appealed to state lawmakers on Tuesday for $25 million to help finance a new $350 million children’s hospital on the peninsula.
Cole told Sens. Larry Grooms, R-Charleston, and Paul Campbell, R-Goose Creek, that MUSC is counting on this state money to secure federal financing later this year.
The hospital needs sufficient “cash on hand” — at a minimum 10 percent of the total loan — to show the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that it can afford the new building.
“The only way we can accomplish a project of this magnitude is through HUD application and a low interest HUD loan,” Cole wrote in a letter to the lawmakers.
The state House of Representatives passed a bill that would provide $25 million for the new hospital. Now, the Senate needs to pass that version of the bill before the Legislature officially adjourns for the year on Thursday, MUSC lobbyist Mark Sweatman said. But the measure has been held up for weeks in the Senate by a filibuster by Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, who is blocking a vote on the capital reserve bill. Davis, who opposes proposals to raise the gas tax to improve roads and bridges, wants the millions slated for MUSC and other colleges in the state’s rainy day fund to go to transportation needs.
“Time is short,” Sweatman said. “It’s frustrating when you have a project that is supported strongly by the legislative leadership ... and you can’t even get a vote on the bill.”
Davis, who continued his filibuster Wednesday preventing a vote on the capital reserve bill, was unavailable for comment.
The Senate version of the bill technically includes only $1 for the new children’s hospital. “They put that in there so we have the opportunity to negotiate,” Sweatman said. He hopes that the Senate will sign off on the $25 million allocation already approved by the House of Representatives.
Grooms doubted anything would change before the legislative session wrapped up Thursday, although lawmakers have passed a resolution allowing them to return the week of June 15 to deal with unfinished business or vetoes by the governor.
“The actions of others are preventing us from being able to partially fund the MUSC hospital and the Trident Technical Center College Aeronautical Center, with existing cash revenues,” Grooms said. “I see no purpose with what’s occurring right now. Those projects are time-sensitive.”
“I like leaving on a high note,” Grooms said. “We’re not doing that this year.”
MUSC leaders argue South Carolina needs this new hospital because the existing MUSC Children’s Hospital, built 30 years ago, is too small and outdated.
MUSC already raised more than $41 million in private donations to finance the project, including a $25 million gift from Benefitfocus co-founder and CEO Shawn Jenkins last month. The new children’s hospital will be named after Jenkins when it opens in 2019.
MUSC plans to apply for the federal loan in November if it can raise enough money.
“A state investment would allow the project to move forward this year,” Cole told the lawmakers.