ORANGEBURG -- South Carolina State University President George Cooper told the state's higher education commission Thursday that his school can account for federal transportation money that is the subject of a state audit.
"We can document the transportation funds," Cooper told members of the S.C. State Commission on Higher Education. "Of the $26 million that was incrementally given to the university, $4.8 million has been spent (as of) today."
Cooper did not say how the money has been spent.
South Carolina State has received federal money to build its James E. Clyburn Transportation Center, named in honor of U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., perhaps the school's most powerful and well-known graduate. After years of planning and delays, the center just now is being built.
Meanwhile, the S.C. Legislative Audit Council, acting at the behest of state legislators, voted recently to conduct an audit to determine how much of the money for the center already has been spent and on what.
The investigation is in response to a June 14 report in The Post and Courier, which found that 12 years after the transportation center was launched, nothing had been built, no transportation research was under way, and the center had lost its federal designation.
More than $50 million has flowed to the center since 1998, about half for transportation programs and half for the first phase of the new transportation complex.
While the university has most of the $26.3 million for the first phase of the new building on hand, school finance officials have been unable to explain how millions of federal dollars for transportation-related programs have been spent.
Cooper, giving a state-of-the-school presentation along with the presidents of the state's other public colleges and universities, told commission members that S.C. State has drawn down federal money for the transportation center as needed to begin construction. He repeated his pledge to work with the Audit Council as well as with another review that S.C. State's trustees previously voted to have undertaken.
"I believe in transparency and accountability," Cooper said.
Like his peers, Cooper noted the difficulty of running a university in the face of state budget cuts. Those cuts, combined with an unexpected drop in enrollment last fall, contributed to S.C. State's decision to furlough faculty and staff.
On Thursday, however, Cooper reported that the university will finish this fiscal year with a budget surplus, allowing bonuses totaling $140,000 to be paid to faculty and staff members earning less than $100,000 a year.
Commission chairman Ken Wingate alluded to the issues surrounding Cooper and S.C. State when he told fellow commission members there would not be time for extensive questioning.
"The discussion could go on quite long," Wingate said.
The Post and Courier contributed to this report.