“GRAND THEFT CARGO”
The S.C. State Ports Authority (SCSPA) voted this week to named a proposed $700 million terminal after the most powerful, most corrupt politician in the state.
And he’s not even dead … yet.
Critics say the move is intended to secure hundreds of millions of dollars in additional funding for the facility – including some that’s already been appropriated for other purposes.
Hugh Leatherman – the uber-liberal president of the S.C. Senate (and chairman of its powerful finance committee) – will have his name emblazoned on a terminal to be built on the site of the former Charleston Navy Base if port officials get their way.
The first favor they expect in return? Keeping $120 million in “leftover” funding after state lawmakers appropriated $300 million for a harbor deepening project. This website supported that appropriation (initially), although we’ve since come to discover that lawmakers and port leaders weren’t entirely honest about the competitive advantage it is to provide.
“We put in $300 million for deepening in case the feds didn’t come through,” one ranking GOP House member told FITS. “South Carolina’s portion (of the dredging) is $180 million so I hear they will be asking to keep the balance to spend on the new terminal.”
Really? At a time when lawmakers are demanding massive tax hikes to pay for a network of roads and bridges they allowed to deteriorate in spite of record funding increases?
Apparently so …
“They need several hundred million dollars to make this happen and by putting Leatherman’s name on it serves as payola so he will put it in the budget,” the lawmaker added. “Just call it ‘Grand Theft Cargo.'”
Leatherman is South Carolina’s undisputed king of big government – a party-switching former Democrat who wields near dictatorial power over the state. In fact his support of obscene budget increases over the past two decades is one reason Palmetto State residents remain dirt poor.
One of Leatherman’s few antagonists in the S.C. Senate is Tom Davis – a former SCSPA board member who has been fighting for years to reform the agency and get a public-private port facility built in jobs-starved Jasper County, S.C. Port officials pledged over a decade ago to devote the “full faith and resources” of the state toward the Jasper project – yet it’s still in the developmental stages.
Davis was livid at the SCSPA’s announcement – calling it a “political payback” to Leatherman.
“This is theft,” Davis told FITS. “Whatever money is appropriated by the state to the Ports Authority is the state taxpayers’ money, not that of a single politician. Sometimes people forget that in Columbia.”
Actually, they forget that all the time in Columbia …
As this website has argued for years, South Carolina’s government has every right to retain ownership of legitimate economic development assets like port infrastructure. But its refusal to permit private investment in – and management of – these facilities places an undue burden on taxpayers to subsidize these projects.
The SCSPA’s shameless sop to Leatherman does nothing to alleviate that burden – in fact it will exacerbate it. And it will do so at a time when lawmakers claim they have no money to spend on core functions of government.
Seriously: Which is it?
Is the state broke? Or does it have hundreds of millions of dollars to blow on a new port terminal?
Because state leaders can’t have it both ways …
Not a dime of tax money should be spent on this project – nor should a dime of previously appropriated funding be transferred to it. Lawmakers must stop playing politics with our port facilities and – at long last – permit the private sector to start driving this economic engine (and picking up the tab for its infrastructure enhancements).
Continuing down the current road will only cause the Port of Charleston (once America’s fourth-busiest port) to fall further behind – and cause further delays on the Jasper Port.