By RICK BRUNDRETT
The SC Department of Commerce wants an additional $ 100 million in state funding for the next fiscal year – which is almost 80% of its entire current budget – for a non-“infrastructure” program. specified.
“South Carolina does not have a funding mechanism to meet the significant needs that are necessary for the state to continue and capitalize on the success of its economic development,” according to the official Commerce budget request recently submitted by the new head of agency Harry Lightsey in the Department of State Administration. . “Currently, the state responds to the need to modernize or build new infrastructure depending on population density or individual economic development projects. “
“This approach leaves significant gaps in infrastructure and prevents the state from responding to business needs in a timely manner,” according to the “Strategic Economic Development Infrastructure” request.
But the 2022-2023 tax request did not contain any details on the types of proposed infrastructure projects, such as water or sewer pipes; which regions of the state would be targeted; or which Commerce officials would be involved in granting grants or loans.
Le Nerve submitted a list of written questions to department spokesperson Alex Clark about the proposal last week, but received no response. The new fiscal year begins on July 1.
To put the proposed $ 100 million in some context, that’s more than the total budgets of at least 50 state agencies for this fiscal year.
Tens of millions of dollars are already allocated each year for infrastructure projects in South Carolina. A separate state agency, the Rural Infrastructure Authority (RIA), provides grants and loans for water supply, sewerage and drainage projects in rural areas throughout the state; last year, a total of $ 77 million was awarded for 65 projects in 32 counties, according to its annual report.
By law, as Secretary of Commerce, Lightsey is the chairman of the board of directors of the RIA. Lightsey was appointed in June by Governor Henry McMaster to head Commerce and was quickly confirmed by the Senate, succeeding longtime Secretary Bobby Hitt. Lightsey’s salary is $ 252,000, according to the state salary database maintained by the Department of Administration.
In addition to RIA funding, lawmakers in 2019 allocated $ 65 million to Commerce for the new “Rural School District and Economic Development Closing Fund,” which McMaster said who lobbied for funding for the RIA. ‘State, was to be used’ only and without exception. , for economic development ”in rural areas. Of that total, $ 30 million was paid earlier this year to the State Regulatory Personnel Office to administer a broadband expansion grant program in eligible counties, according to Commerce’s accountability report. for the 2020-21 fiscal year.
The additional $ 100 million in state funding that Commerce wants for fiscal year 2022-2023 represents 77% of its total budget of $ 159.5 million for that fiscal year, which includes state, federal and “funding” others ”, according to budget records.
And that’s not the only item on the agency’s wishlist for the next fiscal year.
The trade is asking for an additional $ 17 million for its “closing fund,” which the agency’s budget request said would be used to increase the number of “new / retained jobs and capital investment in North Carolina. South “, although no details were given. on how the money would be spent. For this fiscal year, lawmakers contributed $ 21.3 million to the fund; As of Thursday, the account had a cash balance of $ 18.7 million, according to state comptroller’s records.
In recent years, grants from the fund have been used to attract large companies to the state by helping them cover construction, road and infrastructure costs. In 2014, for example, nearly $ 36 million was provided by the fund to help Singapore-based Giti Tire locate a manufacturing plant in Chester County, as The Nerve revealed at the time.
The money in the account, also known as the “governor’s closing fund” or “transaction closing fund,” is distributed by the State Coordinating Council for Economic Development (CCED), a group of 11 members composed of directors or board chairmen of state agencies, including Commerce, involved in economic development. By law, the Secretary of Commerce is the Chairman of the CCED.
Over the years, SEAC has met behind closed doors at Commerce headquarters in a skyscraper opposite the State House to discuss various taxpayer-funded incentives for businesses, as revealed by The Nerve.
In addition to the $ 17 million for the closing fund, Commerce also wants another $ 4 million for next year for its “LocateSC” program, which is used to market and develop industrial sites, as reported by The Nerve. .
Budget requests from Commerce and other state agencies will be used by McMaster to develop its annual state spending plan. Next year, the SC House and Senate will pass their own state budget proposals; a final legislative version will go to McMaster for vetoes consideration.
The total state budget for this fiscal year is over $ 32.3 billion.
Brundrett is the editor of The Nerve (www.thenerve.org). Contact him at 803-254-4411 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @RickBrundrett. Follow The Nerve on Facebook and Twitter @thenervesc.
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