SC senators make short work of spending $2B in federal cash
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina senators spent less than two hours Tuesday deciding how to spend more than $2 billion in federal money coming to the state.
About $1.7 billion is in COVID-19 relief money and an additional $525 million are fines paid by the federal government in a settlement after a plan to convert plutonium from nuclear bombs into nuclear reactor fuel was abandoned and it failed to make promised deadlines to remove the radioactive material from the Savannah River Site near Aiken.
There were questions asked about priorities and exactly where the money was going. But in the end, senators unanimously approved the spending plans for both pots of money. The plan faces one more routine vote and will go to the House.
“We’ll be paying for these funds for generations. But investing this money wisely can trigger a transformation for communities across South Carolina for generations to come,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Harvey Peeler, a Republican from Gaffney.
The bulk of the COVID-19 relief money — $900 million — is proposed to go to helping rural water and sewer authorities upgrade their systems. Gov. Henry McMaster proposed similar aid, saying the money was a great one-time opportunity to repair systems that are reaching the end of their safety and usefulness after several decades.
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Senators also approved spending $400 million to bring broadband internet to rural areas and $450 million to offset money the Department of Transportation lost after collecting less in gas tax and other revenue during the pandemic.
Senators also gave unanimous approval to how to spend the $525 million in fines from the federal government missing the plutonium removal deadline.
Aiken, Allendale and Barnwell counties where the Savannah River Site is located, will get $341 million. Barnwell will spend $110 million on new school buildings, while Allendale County plans school upgrades and a new building for law enforcement and other government agencies.
Aiken County plans an industrial park, expanding a cybersecurity industry corridor in North Augusta and redeveloping neighborhoods near Aiken.
Edgefield, Orangeburg and Hampton counties, which surround the site, are getting $52 million they mostly will spend on attracting industry.
The remaining $131 million in federal funds will be spread on projects around the state.
Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP.