Lawmakers move money to cover flooding costs

COLUMBIA — The cost of repairing roads, bridges and dams damaged in last month’s historic flooding still isn’t known, but state officials are looking to make some quick fixes by moving money around.

S.C. Adjutant General Bob Livingston told House budget writers Thursday that the flooding cost the Emergency Management Division and the state National Guard about $37 million.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is expected to cover 75 percent of the costs, leaving the state to pick up about $9.25 million.

On Thursday, Gov. Nikki Haley, in agreement with state Treasurer Curtis Loftis, transferred that amount from unallocated funds in the treasurer’s unclaimed property account to the adjutant general’s office.

In a letter to House and Senate budget committee chairmen, Haley said the funds will allow “the Guard to continue and conclude its vital efforts to support the state and cover expenses ... additionally, to ensure that we can take advantage of available federal disaster aid.”

If eligible costs surpass $630 million, the state can apply for more federal funds, with the state paying 10 percent of the additional funding.

“We got into that with [Hurricane] Hugo,” Livingston said. “But whether we get into that with this, a lot will depend on infrastructure damage.”

Infrastructure damage costs aren’t expected until later this month.

Christy Hall, interim state Department of Transportation secretary, said reimbursement costs from the Federal Highway Administration will cover 100 percent of emergency repairs to portions of the federal highway system, like Interstate 95. Permanent repair reimbursement costs are covered under different rates.

The bulk of reimbursements will fall under the FHWA emergency relief program; other road costs will be covered by public assistance funds from FEMA to return infrastructure to service, not improve it.

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“It’s going to look like a patchwork that is the intent behind the recovery strategy,” Hall said. “There may be a few exceptions ... but for the most part, many of the repairs that have been done are intended to be the final repair.”

House Ways and Means Chairman Brian White, R-Anderson, said the disaster presents a “golden opportunity” to “make our infrastructure better” even as it adds pressure to the budget process.

“We got to figure how to fund and how that fits within the overall spectrum of keeping South Carolina functioning,” White said. “I don’t anticipate trying to take away from any one person to fund someone else because we do have needs out there.”

Lawmakers will get a better idea of upcoming revenues when the Board of Economic Advisers presents its preliminary 2016-2017 estimates next week.

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