Posted on July 28, 2021
A proposal to use COVID-19 relief cash on railroad and barge upgrades at the Port of Charleston aims to keep the state from borrowing money for the project, if the expenditure is allowed.
Accelerate SC members are considering a proposal to recommend the state use $350 million of American Rescue Plan Act money for improvements at the Port of Charleston that proponents say are needed to keep the port competitive along the east coast.
Earlier this year, the state Senate approved a plan to borrow $550 million to create near rail access and barge operations at the Port of Charleston. It’s an effort to reduce the amount of truck traffic off of the roads around the port, as well as to keep the port competitive along the east coast.
The Senate approved the bond bill not knowing the federal COVID money would come to the state.
Lawmakers have been hesitant in the past to issue debt especially when they have enough cash on hand to pay for an expense.
“We’ve got funding we can use now, and we don’t have to put it on credit, let’s use it now,” said James Burns, who chairs the governor’s Accelerate SC Committee, tasked with putting together recommendations on how to use COVID-relief money.As the economy has improved, lawmakers included $200 million in the state’s budget to go toward the Charleston port project, reducing the amount needed to be bonded to $350 million.
The American Rescue Plan Act allows allocations given to states to spend on certain uses but as they choose. South Carolina lawmakers are scheduled to come back this fall to discuss how to allocate all or part of $2.5 billion of federal money coming to the state. They also have $525 million from the Savannah River Site settlement that also needs to be allocated.
However, whether this project would qualify for American Rescue Plan money remains to be seen.
Among the allowable uses for the COVID-19 relief money are infrastructure such as water and sewer, but not roads and bridges as federal lawmakers are working on a separate transportation bill.
“It’s not a road, it’s not a bridge and it’s not a highway and there will be some flexibility. The guidelines have not been finalized. We know what we cannot use it for, but there are a variety of activities that will be allowed and we believe that will be one of them,” Gov. Henry McMaster said.
Other allowable uses include the state’s public health response to COVID-19, expanding broadband infrastructure, addressing education disparities and replacing a drop in revenue that can be attributed to the pandemic.
“The virus has had an enormous impact on the economy, as you know, with logistics and the supply chain and things to help to streamline and facilitate that sort of flow we believe will be allowable,” McMaster said.