CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - State economists have discovered $1.7 billion in additional revenue that will be added to the budget currently being prepared by the legislature.
South Carolina District 37 Sen. Larry Grooms says it’s always good news when they learn of more money.
“What has happened is a lot of folks have stayed at home. There’s been a lot of stimulus money flowing to the state to prop up the economy and our state’s economists have now certified that the state will have a windfall of about $1.7 billion in collections of revenue over what we did last year,” Grooms said. “There is likely going to be a mad scramble over how we are going to spend $1.7 billion.”
While that money could go towards salaries or bolstering existing programs, Grooms says he wants to see it go towards one-time expenses.
“I am advocating caution and the use of conservative principals in spending this money. We have a lot of one-time needs and that’s probably where we need to focus that money on,” Grooms said.
As the chairman of the transportation committee, Grooms would like to see some of the money go towards the Department of Transportation’s 10-year plan to improve the state’s roads and bridges.
“Aside from roads, we have a lot of deferred maintenance needs within our colleges and universities,” Grooms said. “There are a lot of buildings that need to be raised and rebuilt.”
One of those projects is the Truist Transportation and Logistics Center at Trident Technical College’s Berkeley County campus in Moncks Corner. The college is still seeking state, local and private donations to fund the $32 million project to renovate the campus.
“We need all the help we can get from the state,” said Mary Thornley, Trident Tech President. “This is a 39-year-old campus. It needs infrastructure. It needs technology. It needs a lot of love and attention so we can build a world class transportation center that has tremendous capacity.”
The facility would help meet a growing need for commercial truck drivers and could be a major economic engine for the region. Thornley says the pandemic has proven truck drivers are critical to the economy with 72 percent of all freight being transported by truck.
“We have people who live here right now that would be eligible to go after this training and get these jobs – these highly respected jobs that pay livable wages,” Thornley said. “Long haul drivers, $60,000 a year. Local owner-operators, $125,000 a year. Short haul, $40,000-$50,000 a year. That’s just for the truck drivers. I am not even going into the diesel mechanics.”
Thornley says they’re asking the state for roughly $25 million.
“There’s an opportunity that we can have that fully funded this year,” Grooms said. “I am hopeful we will do that.”
“Look at the pay. Look at the tax revenue that comes back. All of the graduates in this program will get jobs,” Thornley said. “If you look at return on investment, this has the fastest return on investment of almost anything I can think of that anybody can offer this year.”
Trident Tech is by no means the only school with projects in the works and $1.7 billion is a lot of money.
“There are 170 members of the General Assembly. I am sure everyone will have their local priorities that they are going to push for and it’s going to be a fight to ensure we get our fair share here in the Lowcountry,” Grooms said. “The folks in the Midlands and the Upstate think their fair share is more for them and less for us and my definition of fair share is more for us and less for them.”
The state senate is currently considering the house’s budget. Grooms says the senate finance committee will meet extensively next week to look at the new money.