S.C. State transit spending a puzzle to Clyburn

U.S. House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn

Mary Ann Chastain

COLUMBIA -- U.S. House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn maintains that he doesn't know how S.C. State University spent more than $30 million in federal and state funds for transportation-related programs at the center that bears his name on the Orangeburg campus.

He brought tens of millions of dollars to the school for those programs, but that's where his role stopped, he said at one of his regularly scheduled press conferences Wednesday. He also brought millions of dollars to several other higher education institutions in the state, he said. Clyburn is a graduate of S.C. State, South Carolina's only public historically black university, and represents the 6th Congressional District, which includes most of Orangeburg County.

Clyburn was responding to a question from The Post and Courier about his reaction to university officials being unable to explain where $31.7 million, most of it federal money, for transportation programs went. A June 14 newspaper investigation found that 12 years after the James E. Clyburn University Transportation Center was launched, no research is under way and school officials could point to only a few accomplishments.

The state's Legislative Audit Council is investigating the transportation center, a process Clyburn has said he supports. He also has said he would support an audit from the U.S. Department of Transportation, which S.C. State President George Cooper has requested.

Clyburn said he and his staff receive many requests for federal funds. They review those requests and decide which ones have merit, he said. Then, if possible, he earmarks federal money to those that do. After a state institution has been awarded money from a federal agency, "My office, my staff, nobody has anything to do with it," he said. "The relationship is between the federal agency and the requesting agency."

In the case of S.C. State University, the money for transportation programs came from the federal Transportation and Energy departments.

Clyburn did have something to say about construction delays for a planned complex to house transportation programs that also will bear his name. The university has about $26.3 million available for the first phase of the building. But construction didn't begin until earlier this summer, despite a groundbreaking in 2005. Clyburn said university officials have told him that the state rejected plans for the building 27 times. That's "extremely unusual," he said.

He also said the delays could have been politically motivated but would not elaborate on that statement.

In other matters raised at the press conference:

--Clyburn said he would not vote for Alvin Greene, his party's nominee for the U.S. Senate, because of a pending felony indictment. Greene is accused of showing pornographic images to a University of South Carolina student. "I have three daughters and a granddaughter. That would be an insult to them," Clyburn said.

--He said that nobody really knows what to do to get the economy moving again. But, he said, the Congressional Budget Office, which operates independently, has found the federal stimulus program has at least given it a push. Under the program, he said, the GNP has increased, unemployment has decreased slightly, and between 1.4 million and 3.3 million more people are working.

--Clyburn and his staff are working on preparing a "legislative fix" for a jobs bill that could leave South Carolina ineligible for $143 million in federal money to stave off teacher layoffs, he said. The state might not qualify for the money because it did not maintain a sufficient amount of funding for higher education. Clyburn said they hope to find a solution by Sept. 30, the end of the federal fiscal year.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491 or dknich@postandcourier.com.