Lawmakers press SC State president on $50M in missing money

Artist's rendering of the future Transportation Center
Artist's rendering of the future Transportation Center

By Jody Barr - bio | email

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - What did South Carolina State University do with $50 million? The money was supposed to build the James Clyburn Transportation Center, a project that's 12 years behind schedule. Lawmakers say the answers the university president gave Tuesday are unacceptable. 

The questions were ones SC State University President Dr. George Cooper has heard before. "I'd like to hear specifically where all this money lies and what's going on with it," said Rep. Chip Limehouse.

How the university spent $24 million that was supposed to build the James Clyburn Transportation Center, and another $26 million on the research programs.
Construction started in July, 12 years behind schedule. State auditors opened an investigation last summer. Cooper spent 20 minutes Tuesday answering questions from a house subcommittee.
Cooper told the members that he'd have answers once the audit is finished. "My questions are simple, they're not difficult questions," countered Limehouse.

Limehouse asked Cooper about tax dollars the school spent on Clyburn Center interns. "I've been informed there were several trips taken, one to Charleston where the interns apparently went to Frankie's Fun Park, paid for it with these specific funds," said Limehouse. "Another one, they went to Six Flags Over Georgia and paid for that with these specific funds. Am I going down the wrong road, or am I totally misinformed?"

"I really am not in a position to answer that question," responded Cooper.

"As chairman, I think I'm allowed to ask a few simple questions as to what you know," replied Limehouse. "If you don't know, just simply state you don't know and I'll move on. I'm just trying to wrap my head around where $50 million is located."

"These are questions that are generated because of what's happened in the media that have apparently left questions in the mind of some of my colleagues," said Rep. Joe Neal.

The committee's job is to recommend how much state tax money the legislature should give S.C. State. The members told Cooper they want answers on the spending before they decide how much money they'll send the university in June.

"Certainly there's an accountability issue, yes," said Neal. "And there's certainly a trust issue as to, can you handle the dollars we're giving you?"

The subcommittee gave SC State two weeks to turn over all records related to the transportation center's funding and the research programs that went with it. President Cooper told lawmakers he'll have those records ready.

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