How SC lawmakers plan to spend $2.5B from American Rescue Plan

Published: Feb. 21, 2022 at 7:16 PM EST|Updated: Feb. 21, 2022 at 7:23 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - One of South Carolina lawmakers’ top tasks this legislative session has been deciding what to do with an unprecedented amount of money in their control.

For months, lawmakers have been hearing pitches and proposals on how to spend the state’s $2.5 billion allocations from the American Rescue Plan Act, the $2 trillion pandemic stimulus package President Joe Biden signed into law last spring.

Both the Senate and House of Representatives have recently passed bills to allocate this money, and each piece of legislation has headed to the opposite chamber for its consideration. Legislators will next need to come to a compromise on one final spending package to send to Gov. Henry McMaster for his signature.

“Investing this money wisely can trigger a transformation for communities across South Carolina for generations to come,” Sen. Harvey Peeler, R – Cherokee and Senate Finance Committee chair, said.

In their respective bills, the House and Senate agree, down to the dollar, to allocate about $453 million to the South Carolina Department of Transportation. That money would reimburse gas tax revenue lost during the pandemic and allow the department to accelerate major projects currently outlined in its Statewide Transportation Improvement Plan, like widening Interstate 26 between Columbia and Charleston.

The chambers are also on the same page to put $400 million toward broadband expansion in rural areas through the Office of Regulatory Staff.

In the highest-priced category, going toward the state’s Rural Infrastructure Authority, the Senate wants to spend $900 million on water and sewer infrastructure improvements, including stormwater infrastructure fixes, which would not be included in the $800 million the House has passed in this category.

However, the House would couple those stormwater improvements with flood-prevention money for the state to purchase land on the floodplain, which the Senate plan does not include, in a $100 million allocation.

The House bill also calls for spending $8 million on professional grant management services for this and other federal pandemic relief packages, which is also not a part of the Senate bill.

“It is a plan, from our perspective as [the House] Ways and Means [Committee], that will make changes in a systemic way in this state,” Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D – Orangeburg, said of the House’s bill.

Both bills total to around $1.75 billion, leaving another $700 million from the state’s allocation unassigned.

However, lawmakers have until the end of 2024 to decide how to spend the entire sum and until the end of 2026 to actually spend it all.

Throughout the fall, Gov. McMaster announced his own proposals for the one-time funding, including $500 million for rural water and sewer infrastructure, $400 for broadband expansion, and more than $600 million for major SCDOT projects.

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