COLUMBIA — Financially troubled South Carolina State University is seeking an additional $14 million, which includes $6 million to pay off a state loan lawmakers approved last spring.
University President Thomas Elzey told a House budget-writing panel Wednesday the school currently owes $17.5 million. Its debts include $10 million in outstanding bills and the state loan the school is supposed to pay back this year but can’t.
Elzey also wants permission to furlough all university employees seven days within the next six months, saving $900,000. The furloughs, combined with program cuts, will create a balanced budget for the fiscal year that ends June 30, he said. He could not detail the cuts, and the budget would balance without factoring in the debt.
“You can’t forget those. They’re still there,” said Rep. Garry Smith, R-Simpsonville. “I’m very concerned with where we are now.”
Elzey reminded the panel he sought a $13 million grant last spring from the Budget and Control Board to pay long-overdue bills. Instead, the board chaired by Gov. Nikki Haley approved, at her recommendation, a loan to pay the oldest bills and keep the school afloat.
“I knew it was a problem,” said Elzey, who took the school’s helm in 2013. “It just creates a hole for tomorrow.”
The state’s only public historically black college is digging out of a hole created by years of declining enrollment, along with a drop in state funding and federal changes that made many students ineligible for grants. Despite the fall-off in revenue, the school continued to spend as if nothing changed, Elzey said.
Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, sought more information on the school’s plans to return to solvency.
“All the talk and fluff is great, but I’m interested in specifics about what the university’s plans are to deal with the declining enrollment because that’s where the money is,” she said.
Legislators understand the important role and proud history of the college, founded in Orangeburg in 1896, but “we’re going to have to exercise some tough love,” Cobb-Hunter said.
The school’s current debt includes $1.5 million received as a first payment under a separate bailout approved last month.
Over Haley’s objections, the financial oversight board agreed to dip into reserves to give SC State $12 million over three years. Elzey said he hopes to soon receive the remaining $4.5 million slated for this fiscal year. The three-year plan means some vendors will have to wait several years to get paid, he said.