SENATE PLAN

SC Senate OKs panel to guide SC state bailout

ccope@thestate.comMay 8, 2014 

  • Compromise on book furor?

    Cutting money to two S.C. schools for assigning gay-themed books was not debated in the state Senate Thursday, even though Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, filibustered on the issue for hours Wednesday.

    Hutto said a compromise is in the works, but the money issue has not been resolved.

    Hutto said the compromise would require schools offer a reading list with options for students to pick from or offer an alternative if some are offended by the required book.

    “It’s kind of like having a vegan menu” for people who do not eat meat, Hutto said.

    Hutto said he does not plan to let the issue go. “I don’t think penalizing the schools is the right idea.”

The state Senate on Thursday approved creation of an advisory committee of five current and former S.C. college presidents to help guide S.C. State University through its financial turmoil.

To get a second state bailout, S.C. State will have to follow the committee’s recommendations, senators were told.

The state’s only historically black public college received a $6 million loan last week from state budget leaders to help with $13.6 million in unpaid and upcoming bills.

“This, at most, is a Band-Aid,” said Senate Finance Committee chairman Hugh Leatherman during the Senate’s budget debate. “The university is bleeding to death and needs a tourniquet.”

Officially creating the advisory committee was the main action the Senate took in its budget debate Thursday, which reached into the evening with multiple attempts to act on more than 150 proposed amendments. The Senate will reconvene Tuesday, continuing its budget debate.

The S.C. State committee is made up of former Clemson president Jim Barker, Francis Marion University president Fred Carter, former S.C. State president Ernest Finney, University of South Carolina president Harris Pastides and former College of Charleston president Alex Sanders.

Leatherman said the advisory committee has told him that S.C. State could need at least three years to get back on track financially.

Committee members have met twice at Leatherman’s request, but their role becomes official with Leatherman’s budget amendment.

If approved by the House and signed into law as part of the state budget that takes effect July 1, the committee – working with four S.C. State trustees – would develop a plan to reduce expenditures and stabilize the Orangeburg university, including the recruitment and retention of students. The plan would address expenses, including administration, academics, auxiliary operations, public service activities and athletics. School trustees will need to follow the committee’s recommendations to receive additional bailout money.

The proposal comes a week after the state Budget and Control Board approved a $6 million loan to help S.C. State stabilize its finances, a move that Leatherman opposed.

Leatherman said S.C. State instead needs a comprehensive, long-term plan.

“I won’t ever agree to close that university,” he added.

Leatherman said some of the unspecified changes that S.C. State has to make will be painful.

Sen. Wes Hayes, R-York, added oversight by the Joint Bond Review Committee for any money spent to Leatherman’s proposal, saying he was concerned the five members of the advisory committee are not elected officials but would be recommending how to spend taxpayer money.

Senators rejected a proposal by Sen. Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, to put an $8 million limit on the cost of bailing out S.C. State.

“In my opinion, you’re guaranteeing failure” with an $8 million cap, Leatherman said.

Reach Cope at (803) 771-8657.

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