Commerce expected to request $123 million in bonds for Volvo

Rep. Chip Limehouse, R-Charleston ( Leroy Burnell/staff file photo)

COLUMBIA — A legislative panel will be asked Wednesday to approve $123 million in bonds as part of an incentive package used to lure Volvo to Berkeley County.

The Joint Bond Review Committee received the request Friday from the Department of Commerce, said Sen. Hugh Leatherman, the Senate’s president pro tempore and the committee’s chairman.

“Obviously I’ll accommodate Commerce Wednesday morning,” the Florence Republican said Saturday.

Allison Skipper, spokeswoman for the department, confirmed that Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt would appear before the committee to request an economic development bonds package for Volvo. State officials have said that they would need roughly $120 million in state bonds to cover part of the $204 million incentive package offered to the Swedish auto maker.

It’s not unusual for the state to borrow millions of dollars to bring in jobs. In 2010, the state borrowed $270 million to help front the cost of Boeing’s North Charleston assembly plant.

But this year the state has extra cash that it had previously not accounted for. The Board of Economic Advisors voted unanimously Friday to recognize a total of $415 million in revenues that were higher than previously expected.

Rep. Chip Limehouse, a member of the bond review committee, said Saturday he was unclear why the state would not tap into that extra cash — which some lawmakers also want to use for roads — and instead issue $120 million in bonds. He also said the Department of Commerce, a cabinet agency, is asking for a bond issue after the governor’s office set a “no bonding” precedent earlier this year.

“The governor made it quite clear during the budget process that she was vehemently opposed to bonding,” Limehouse, R-Charleston, said. “This is bonding. This is putting it on the state’s credit card, no doubt about it.”

Haley’s office did not respond to a request for comment about Limehouse’s remarks.

In February, Haley slammed House members for a proposed $500 million bonds package, and compared it to taking on irresponsible credit card debt.

That plan called for $35 million for an Aeronautical Training Center at Trident Technical College intended to help sculpt a local workforce. Boeing, in turn, committed to investing another $1 billion and adding 2,000 more workers through 2021 in the state.

Haley’s opposition to the bonds package fractured the state’s GOP. The bill never made it out the House.

She later re-branded her website to call out lawmakers who have voted against her proposals, including the Senate’s effort to revive the bonds bill. The Senate package was a smaller one, calling for a $236.7 million plan that would fund building projects at state campuses and renovate armories.

That plan would allocate $17.5 million to Trident Tech’s Aeronautical Center. But its passing is highly unlikely by the end of session, which is Thursday.

The aeronautical center’s completion would create more jobs in South Carolina, just like the money the Department of Commerce is asking for to complete its promise to Volvo, Limehouse said.

“They’ve already made promises to an incoming business to South Carolina,” Limehouse said. “Is that not putting it on the state’s credit card? I’m just putting it out there for discussion.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Reach Cynthia Roldan at 708-5891.