USCB, TCL funding survives governor's budget vetoes; Waddell, Santa Elena don't

zmurdock@beaufortgazette.comJune 12, 2014 

More money for the University of South Carolina Beaufort, the Technical College of the Lowcountry and a proposed port in Jasper County were spared vetoes by Gov. Nikki Haley on Thursday.

However, funding for renovations to the Waddell Mariculture Center in greater Bluffton and to preserve artifacts from the historic Santa Elena site on Parris Island was among 76 line-item cuts totaling $18.5 million that Haley made to the $7 billion budget approved by the S.C. General Assembly for next fiscal year.

ESCAPING THE VETO

Education spending accounts for most of the budget increases afforded local institutions in the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, according to state Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort. That includes a $731,000 bump to the Beaufort County School District.

USCB will receive an additional $121,176 in recurring appropriations and a $200,000, one-time increase, inching its per-pupil funding toward the state average, Davis said.

"The statewide per-student average is $2,770, and we still have some catching up to do, but we are getting there," he said. "A couple of years ago, the per-pupil funding for USCB was only $940."

The increase will bring USCB's per-pupil funding to $1,903 per student, and legislators can continue to chip away at the remaining gap over the next few years, Davis said.

TCL will receive $2.25 million for improvements. Of that, $750,000 will be for renovations at its Beaufort campus, and $1.5 million will go toward programs that help military personnel make the transition to the civilian job market.

Another $1.2 million for the final engineering of a planned port in Jasper County survived Haley's cuts, as well.

Nearly all of the planning of the port is completed, and this sum will fund the final preparation of documents and plans for the years-long permitting processes before any construction can begin, Davis said.

"That permitting process is incredibly arduous; you've got a gauntlet with federal agencies and other stakeholders," he said. "This $1.2 million goes to getting these final things ready for those applications."

VETOED PROJECTS

Davis said that when the General Assembly reconvenes Tuesday, he and other local representatives will work to override Haley's vetoes of extra funding for the Waddell Mariculture Center and preservation of Santa Elena artifacts.

Davis argues the state has an obligation to fund both -- the Waddell Mariculture Center as part of maintenance of S.C. Department of Natural Resources facilities, and the Santa Elena artifacts as part of South Carolina's commitment to preserving important history.

Davis said he is confident legislators will return both items to the budget.

The $1.1 million, one-time appropriation for renovations to the mariculture center will head off larger construction costs, as the lab's aging facilities continue to deteriorate, center director Al Stokes said.

"It's got serious structural problems, and we need to bring it back up to code," Stokes said.

Legislators will also be asked to reconsider a $220,000 appropriation to the S.C. Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology, which has struggled for decades to care for artifacts from the Santa Elena site on the southern tip of Parris Island, Davis said.

According to Davis, representatives of the Santa Elena Foundation, which seeks to uncover information and artifacts related to the Spanish colonization of the area in the 1560s, have been told by federal officials that South Carolina must preserve and protect what already has been discovered before their effort will receive more federal funding. By fulfilling that obligation, the foundation should be able to reopen the site for excavation, with private fundraising and grants covering most of the remaining costs, Davis said.

CASHING IN

Overall, Davis said he was pleased with the additional money coming to the area and credits Beaufort and Jasper counties' legislative delegations with bringing home the cash.

"We had a great year in a lot of respects," Davis said. "There were a lot of things in this budget that are good for Beaufort County."

He said it could be a trend.

"What we're seeing now, for the first time in a couple decades, is more of the money that Beaufort County is sending to Columbia coming back to our districts," Davis said. "We'll always be a donor county, but it's getting better."

Follow reporter Zach Murdock at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach.

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