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SC Pension Fund Deal With Ports Authority Scrutinized

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INVESTMENT WOULD HELP SUBSIDIZE NEW TERMINAL COST

|| By FITSNEWS || Whistleblowers at three separate state agencies have sounded an alarm about a controversial investment deal allegedly being pushed by leaders of the S.C. Retirement System Investment Commission (SCRSIC).

According to our sources, the deal involves a “major investment” in a government-owned terminal being built by the S.C. State Ports Authority (SCSPA) – which is also in the midst of a major harbor deepening project.

State taxpayers have already set aside big money for the harbor deepening effort – an estimated $300 million – along with another $400 million for the development of a new container terminal on the site of the former U.S. Navy base in Charleston harbor.

The rumored SCRSIC deal is said to involve funding for the terminal – which carries a total price tag of $800 million (not counting infrastructure enhancements).

According to our sources, S.C. Senate president/ finance chairman Hugh Leatherman – the most powerful elected official in South Carolina – is pushing SCRSIC commissioners to make a major “$100,000,000+” loan to the SCSPA.  In fact we’re told the loan would be offered at an exceedingly competitive rate.

“Leatherman wants the (SCRSIC) to loan the money at three (percent) where the best rate they have been quoted is twelve (percent),” one source said.  “The investment staff thinks this is bullsh*t and doesn’t want to go along with it.”

An executive branch source confirmed those particulars … however sources at the port say the information is inaccurate.

“Not true,” the source told us.

Our port sources did confirm that a push was underway to finance the remaining cost of the new terminal – and referred us to statements made publicly by port leaders in recent months.  In fact, the officials said FITS should be pleased given that part of the project was to be funded with private investment.

“There are several firms that are interested in investing in this space,” SCSPA president and CEO Jim Newsome said last year.  “And we’ll hope to do a deal with them.”

This website has repeatedly argued on behalf of leveraging private investment to expand port infrastructure.  Unfortunately, the SCSPA has been reticent to enter such deals in the past.  Also, recent competitive advantages provided to the state of Georgia by S.C. governor Nikki Haley have come at the expense of a proposed deepwater port in Jasper County, S.C. – where private investment has been expressly rebuked by port officials.

We have no problem with government retaining ownership of port infrastructure … but public management of these facilities is another question.

Port officials argue – correctly – that their ongoing $2 billion capital plan is vitally needed to keep the Port of Charleston competitive.

“Any top ten port has to spend this kind of money to remain in that position,” one official noted.

We agree … but we’ll be following the funding of those expenditures very closely to ensure taxpayers are being protected.

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