S.C. Statehouse Report
Jan. 25, 2004
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns04.0125.sumter.htm

BEST OF 2003: If you'd like to see a great cartoon retrospective from our Bill McLemore, click here.

COMMENTARY
Sanford's Commerce Department should back off
By Andy Brack
SC Statehouse Report

JAN. 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.

Perhaps 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.

S. 560 SUMMARY

The "Life Sciences Act" includes provisions spanning several areas due to amendments added during the legislative process. Among the provisions:

  • Allow 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.
  • Boost venture capital investments by creating a more friendly venture environment.
  • Allow state colleges and universities to issue bonds for millions to build infrastructure for research facilities, which can be catalysts for spin-off companies and jobs.
  • Allow Trident Tech to start a four-year culinary arts program to fill the void left by the pending departure of Johnson & Wales University.
  • Allow 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 debate it.

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.

Scott 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 status.

   

ALSO THIS WEEK

McLEMORE'S WORLD: Politics and religion

FEEDBACK: On tort reform

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"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 said.

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.


McLEMORE'S WORLD
First words

This week's cartoon by our Bill McLemore:


FEEDBACK

1/19: Another 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 to last 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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