uscarolinamed University of South Carolina
The University of South Carolina is seeking state funds to build a new campus for its school of medicine.

South Carolina colleges trim construction funding requests, but prospects for passage remain iffy

The state's colleges and universities are seeking about $500 million in 2018, compared with $1.1 billion last year, but lawmakers may want to avoid spending in an election year.

After their requests were turned down last year, South Carolina colleges and universities are asking for less construction funding in 2018 from the Legislature.

But, The Columbia State reports, the answer could be the same: No. Lawmakers say they're unsure even a smaller borrowing bill for higher education can win passage.

Higher-education institutions had made it a priority in 2017 to get a bond bill passed that would provide money for long-term maintenance needs for campus buildings.

But those efforts failed when lawmakers balked at $1.1 billion in borrowing requests, and Gov. Henry McMaster threatened to veto the bond bill if it came to his desk. The dollar amount the colleges are seeking in 2018 has been winnowed to $500 million.

Colleges say the money is needed to prevent bigger repair bills in the future and hold down spiraling tuition costs.

For the University of South Carolina (USC), which requested nearly $178 million from the bond bill in 2017, passing the bill remains a top legislative priority. The school’s biggest request in the 2018 package is for $50 million to start construction on a new medical school at the BullStreet development in downtown Columbia.

A new medical school campus also would enable the medical school to move from its existing location at Columbia’s Dorn VA Medical Center, where its $1-a-year lease is about to increase dramatically.

“Federal guidelines now call for market-based leasing,” says spokesman Wes Hickman. “By 2030, it could cost us $8 million.”

State Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter says lawmakers may have missed their chance to pass a borrowing bill last year. This year, many state representatives have the prospect of re-election campaigns in the fall.

“I’m hopeful we can ensure passage, but I’m realistic,” Cobb-Hunter says. “It doesn’t take much to get cold feet in an election year. If we continue to kick the can down the road, it only adds to the cost.”

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