COLUMBIA — South Carolina legislators’ plans to pump $52 million into colleges for maintenance projects were up in the air Tuesday after unexpected delays in dealing with a spending bill tied to the state’s $6 billion proposed budget.
Time is short in a session that ends Thursday and tempers are flaring.
Senators stopped debating the spending bill so they could spend time talking about what work they would do if they returned to Columbia on June 14 — a date the House has approved — for a two-week extended session. The Senate unanimously approved that measure with changes that widen the scope of bills they can take up.
And then they spent the rest of the afternoon and evening working out a final deal on legislation limiting lawsuit awards.
Earlier Tuesday, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Hugh Leatherman turned back a spending bill proposal that would have used nearly $110 million in an unneeded reserve account for a bailout of businesses with records of firing people during the recession. That measure failed 35-2, but it was unclear when debate would resume on the bill.
Leatherman, R-Florence, wants to use the reserve money for college maintenance projects such as fixing leaking roofs and buying fire-safety equipment.
Most South Carolina public colleges stand to lose 6 percent of their general taxpayer budget in the $6 billion appropriations bill, and the reserve account money would soften the reductions. For instance, the University of South Carolina lost $6 million in the budget bill, but would pick up
$9 million in reserve money for maintenance projects; Clemson University lost nearly $4 million in the budget but would gain $6 million in reserve cash for maintenance.
Leatherman’s proposal would give the state court system $5 million for work on a statewide electronic case-handling system and the Department of Public Safety $1 million for equipment. It also includes $4 million for Statehouse and local primary elections next year and $10 million for economic development programs.
As debate stalled on spending the reserve cash, tempers flared after Gov. Nikki Haley briefly visited the Senate chamber to speak with a couple of senators.
Sen. Jake Knotts, R-Lexington, told senators that Haley hadn’t been invited to come inside. Knotts is the chairman of the Senate’s invitations committee which approves those visits. He’s a frequent critic of Haley who referred to her with a racial slur last year in the governor’s race.
Knotts conceded Haley doesn’t need an invitation because she was a member of the House, but Sen. Greg Ryberg, R-Aiken and a Haley ally, angrily told the Senate that Knotts was out of line. “And Senator, I know your dislike for the governor and I know any chance you get to stick it to the governor, but I am tired, I am tired of you just going one after another to go after the governor,” Ryberg said.
They resumed after lengthy recesses, with Ryberg telling Knotts from the floor: “Your personal feelings about this governor are well known. And your personal feelings are one thing, but I think we should have respect for the office of the governor of the state of South Carolina.”
Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey said the governor was doing her job. “Governor Haley’s job is to fight for the things that matter to the people of South Carolina — if she needs to go to the floor of either body of the legislature to do so, she will,” Godfrey said.
The Senate gave the lawsuit limit measure key second reading approval and could give it final approval Wednesday.
Senators also expect to resume debate Wednesday on the spending bill.