Lawmakers to push for borrowing plan to cover costs of aging buildings

COLUMBIA — Members of the S.C. House of Representatives will once again push for a borrowing plan to pay for repairing crumbling buildings at the state’s colleges and universities.

Rep. Jim Merrill, chairman of the House’s budget-writing Higher Education and Technical Colleges Subcommittee, said the panel will present a bonds bill during the week of March 21, which is when the House discusses the state’s $7.5 billion budget on the floor.

Merrill, R-Charleston, said the panel is still working on the proposal, but estimates the bonds bill would be about $200 million. The state’s universities and colleges would have to meet certain benchmarks for their maintenance requests to be included in the bill, he said, such as freezing tuition increases or meeting certain graduation rates.

“I’m not interested in creating new buildings but I think we have to maintain the property we own,” Merrill said.

Getting a bonds bill to pass is likely an uphill battle. State lawmakers have $1.3 billion in unspent and unallocated cash in the state budget but some legislators are pushing to use it on road repairs instead.

Gov. Nikki Haley has already said she will oppose any bonds bill that is not for the state’s elementary and secondary schools. Haley proposed a plan in January that calls for the Legislature to get behind a yet-to-be-filed bill that would set aside 1 percent of the state’s borrowing capacity to fund infrastructure projects for the state’s poorest schools.

During the 2015 legislative session, Haley and members of the General Assembly also clashed on their effort to pass a bonds bill that would have funded millions in infrastructure upgrades for the state’s technical colleges, public universities and state armories.

Reach Cynthia Roldan at 843-708-5891.