Jan. 25, 2004
OF 2003: If you'd like to see a great cartoon retrospective
from our Bill McLemore, click here.
Department should back off
SC Statehouse Report
25, 2004 - - The state Commerce Department seems to be picking
a fight with folks in Sumter that doesn't make sense.
For 14 years, Sumter leaders have been trying to get the
University of South Carolina at Sumter changed from a two-year
institution to a university that offered four-year degrees.
They say it's important for the region because Sumter is the
only metropolitan area in the state that doesn't have its
own four-year, state-supported college. And since economic
development is so closely tied to education, they say having
a four-year college in the area should provide more opportunities
for residents and boost their quality of life.
more importantly in the short term, the area is fighting to
keep Shaw Air Force base and its 7,000 jobs. A four-year college
would sweeten its image and take away a big reason why a federal
commission might consider shutting the base.
"Life Sciences Act" includes provisions spanning
several areas due to amendments added during the legislative
process. Among the provisions:
the state to issue bonds to pay for infrastructure
to lure biotech companies that invest at least $100
million and create at least 200 jobs.
venture capital investments by creating a more friendly
state colleges and universities to issue bonds for
millions to build infrastructure for research facilities,
which can be catalysts for spin-off companies and
Trident Tech to start a four-year culinary arts program
to fill the void left by the pending departure of
Johnson & Wales University.
USC-Sumter to become a four-year institution.
At the end of the last legislative session, an amendment
to make USC-Sumter a four-year institution got tacked on to
a Life Sciences bill that would allow biotech companies to
make use of a pot of economic development to bring jobs to
the state. The same bill includes other proposals that weren't
part of it originally - - a measure to improve venture capital
funding in the state, a proposal to allow universities to
borrow millions of dollars to build infrastructure for research
facilities and a plan to allow Trident Technical College to
add a four-year culinary program.
While the much-amended bill didn't get to a vote last year
due to a last-minute filibuster, members of the Senate Finance
Committee last week again approved it - - including the provision
for USC-Sumter. On Tuesday, the full Senate is expected to
That's where the story gets odd. Gov. Mark Sanford, who has
proposed shutting down USC campuses in Union and Allendale,
reportedly has said he would veto the whole bill if the Sumter
provision were included. In his State of the State address
Wednesday, Sanford said he was opposed because "we as
a state have got to do a better job targeting the limited
dollars we've got to spend on higher ed." He complained
about politics driving decisions of state leaders.
Also Wednesday, the state Commerce Department urged economic
development officials throughout the state to lobby Senators
to vote for passage of the Life Sciences bill - - but without
the USC-Sumter amendment on it.
Derks, legislative affairs director for the Commerce Department,
acknowledged he sent the e-mail to peers around the state
with the tacit approval of Sanford's appointed leader, Commerce
Secretary Bob Faith.
"I think we very clearly stated we were an advocate
for Life Sciences and all other issues should stand on their
own merits," Derks said in an interview. "That was
the position we took."
Interestingly, his e-mail didn't say anything about removing
the other amendments regarding venture capital, infrastructure
or Trident Tech.
Folks in Sumter are, to say the least, upset. Steven K. Rust,
president of Sumter County's Development Board, sent a reply
e-mail to development peers around the state to urge them
to support the bill to include USC-Sumter's elevation to four-year
"I believe it is borderline unethical for fellow economic
development individuals and organizations to take direct action
that would have so much negative impact on one community's
future," he wrote.
State Sen. Phil Leventis, D-Sumter, had a similar reaction.
He said the main thrust of the Life Sciences bill was important
to the Commerce Department because it would help seal a deal
for 1,000 new biotech jobs to the Upstate. But having USC-Sumter
as a four-year institution would have a similar impact, he
Leventis added it was the right time for USC-Sumter to mature.
It, for example, is bigger than USC-Beaufort was in 2002 when
it became a four-year campus. State figures show USC-Beaufort
had a full-time equivalent (FTE) of 591 students in 2002.
Today, USC-Sumter has 965 students and an FTE of 624.
Sen. Glenn McConnell, the GOP leader of the Senate from Charleston,
says the plan to make USC-Sumter a four-year college has good
bipartisan support in the Senate.
"I don't know how that would cripple economic development"
as suggested by the Commerce Department e-mail, he said. "It
seems like it would enhance it for Sumter."
McConnell added that he thought the General Assembly should
be able to override any threatened veto by Sanford, just as
it did recently on several bills leftover from last year.
Sanford's Commerce Department should stop playing partisan
politics with Sumter. Instead of meddling against an area's
economic development plans, it should provide support. Last
time we checked, every economic development official around
believed improved educational opportunities helped, not hurt,
an area's economic viability.
This week's cartoon by our Bill McLemore:
aspect of tort reform
To the editor:
Maybe you'd like to address the venue "jury shopping"
aspect of tort reform? Are the trucking and rail industries
being dealt a fair hand when a majority of the cases are being
tried in one small region?
-- State Rep. Bill Herbkersman, R-Bluffton
Editor's note: Rep. Herbkersman is referring
week's discussion on tort reform, which we thought was
being rushed in the House. We replied to him that all parts
of the bills didn't seem bad, such as an end to venue shopping.
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