Spartanburg higher education leaders are urging legislators to pass a bond bill that would provide funding for new facilities and programs.
The proposal would borrow $236.7 million from the state to go primarily toward capital projects at public colleges, universities and technical schools statewide.
At the University of South Carolina Upstate, $7.5 million would go toward building a new library to replace the existing facility that has become too small and outdated, according to campus officials. Spartanburg Community College would renovate an existing building to open a center for advanced manufacturing with $6.8 million.
“This is a great opportunity we may never have again,” said John Perry, the executive director of university boards and public affairs at USC Upstate.
But some legislators don’t see a bond bill feasible for the state’s budget. The last bond bill in South Carolina borrowed $1 billion about 15 years ago for a wide spectrum of projects statewide.
“I know the universities and tech schools want us to pass a bond bill to help with infrastructure, but I’m not going to vote for it,” said State Rep. Doug Brannon, R-Spartanburg. “We’re about to get out of debt. … I’m not interested in putting the state back into debt.”
When the bill was introduced, Gov. Nikki Haley said she would oppose any Senate bond bill that came to her desk.
Perry said the state has come out of debt now, giving legislators the capacity to pass another bond bill.
SCC President Henry Giles said the bill “has a long, hard road ahead of it.”
Both Spartanburg-based colleges have been lobbying for the bill’s passage. Giles added that he has sent letters to each of his representatives.
He said advanced manufacturing is a much needed program given the chemical-based manufacturing companies, such as Toray Industries Inc., Trelleborg and Milliken & Co. investing in the Spartanburg area.
“I would hope that people would understand that higher education is critical for our economy to continue to blossom as it’s blossoming right now,” Giles said. “We have got to have educated, skilled workers to go to work for these companies relocating here.”
Perry added that a new library, to be renamed an “information resources complex” based on more demand for digital technology, is critical for the well-being of students on campus.
“Our library was built in 1975 and built to accommodate 2,000 students. We’re 5,500-plus now and have way outgrown the library,” Perry said. “This would be a big step in the right direction.”
The $236.7 million bill asks for much less than the state’s last bond bill, which borrowed $1 billion, but Brannon said “debt is debt.”
Brannon argued that higher education institutions already get adequate funding from the state. He said passing a bond bill would raise taxes in order for local governments to pay back debts while keeping the same level of service.
“I apologize to the universities and to tech schools, but I’m not going to vote for that tax. … They need to deal with it,” Brannon said. “They cannot say they don’t get enough money from the state of South Carolina. We adequately fund higher education.”
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